Paul scored 40 points and handed out nine assists Wednesday night in a 116-98 victory over Memphis, the worst team in the Southwest Division. The Hornets are now 14-3 against teams under .500.
“Right from the get-go, I try to notice how the defense is going to defend me,” Paul said. “Early, I heard (Memphis coach Marc Iavaroni) yell ‘Get under,’ to the guards. It sort of clicked with me that they were going to let me shoot. Then I made my first couple of shots, and I got going.”
Paul shot 17-of-25 from the field, including 5-of-8 from 3-point range, as the Hornets won their third straight. It marked the second-highest point total in Paul’s career. Only his 43 points against the Grizzlies on Dec. 7 was better.
Iavaroni compared Paul’s use of the pick-and-roll to All-Star guards Steve Nash and Jason Kidd, and said a lack of defensive intensity was the reason none of the Grizzlies’ defensive strategies worked.
“We tried to get the ball out of his hands, he found shooters, and they buried us. We came up and helped, he found the roll guy for lobs, and he buried us. But that is something we have to face,” Iavaroni said.
“…We went over. We went under. We trapped, we switched and we zoned it,” Iavaroni said of the pick-and-rolls.
Rudy Gay and Mike Miller led Memphis with 19 points apiece, while Kyle Lowry finished with 15 on 6-of-8 from the field. Lowry also had eight assists for Memphis, which lost its third straight and 10th in the last 12.
Iavaroni was particularly upset with his team’s effort, and the atmosphere in the locker room afterward reflected a squad that is reeling.
“We gave less effort. We got less tough, and we stopped doing the effort things, which is not the way to find yourself getting back into the game when someone is hot,” Iavaroni said. “We didn’t get enough out of anybody. I don’t think there was one guy who jumped out and gave a great performance.”
That certainly included Pau Gasol, the Grizzlies’ second-leading scorer, who finished with eight points, ending a streak of 81 games in double figures. That was the third-highest in the league behind Carmelo Anthony and Ray Allen. Gasol acknowledged that a jammed right big toe that kept him out of four games earlier this month is nagging him to the point of affecting his play.
“Every post touch I had, obviously (defenders) came,” Gasol said. “They dig, and I was just trying to make the right pass, and I got a lot of shots to other guys.”
Gasol, who seemed to settle for outside shots most of the night rather than challenge Tyson Chandler, was booed on several occasions when he didn’t take the ball to the basket. Chandler finished with 13 rebounds and 12 points, while Gasol managed only six shots.
“We were just making sure he didn’t get any good looks,” Chandler said. “Being aggressive with him, closing down space, and forcing him into things he’s uncomfortable with. That pretty much was the game plan.”
New Orleans led 52-50 at the break behind 15 points from Paul and 12 by West. Miller scored 15 in the tight half, when both teams shot 50 percent.
Paul helped the Hornets break away in the third period, scoring nine points and assisting on two more baskets before the midway point of the quarter, keying an early 15-5 run. Paul had 16 points and four assists in the quarter, and Stojakovic added 10 points to help New Orleans carry a 86-73 lead into the final period.
The Hornets eventually extended the lead to 20 points in the fourth, and the Grizzlies had little hope at that point of taking the game to overtime as they had in the previous two meetings with New Orleans this season, both of which eventually resulted in Hornets victories.
“It was just defense,” Paul said of the second half rally. “Just about every time we play Memphis, we score, and then they come back and score. We go back and forth. We knew the only way to get a lead was to defend and get some stops.”
Grizzlies G Mike Conley returned to full contact practice Tuesday night, meaning his return from injury is much closer. The rookie from Ohio State has been out of action since injuring his right shoulder against Dallas on Nov. 17. “You wouldn’t have thought he had a shoulder surgery,” Iavaroni said before Wednesday’s game. “Moving around well. He was quick. He needs to get in better shape, but that will come with play.” Iavaroni wouldn’t give a specific time on the first-round pick’s return. … West was whistled for a technical late in the first half by Steve Javie after West argued a no-call. Then Iavaroni got called for a tech midway through the third period for arguing with official Marc Davis. The weirdest tech of the night, though, came with just under 3 minutes left when substitution confusion by the Hornets left New Orleans with only four players on the court. …The Hornets’ 56 percent shooting from the field was a season high by a Memphis opponent. The previous best was 53 percent by Golden State on Dec. 17.