NEW ORLEANS (AP)—Chris Paul wasn’t bashful about his intent to “smash” the record for consecutive games with a steal.
After his season-high eight swipes against the Sacramento Kings, it’s no wonder why.
Paul complemented his heady defense with a season-high 34 points, along with nine assists, and New Orleans won for the 11th time in 13 games, 99-90 on Saturday night.
“One thing we talked about at halftime is, whether we’re scoring or not, defense has to be a constant and that’s what we did,” said Paul, who set an NBA record Wednesday night with his 106th straight regular-season game with a steal.
Make that 107 now.
Paul took over the game in the third quarter, when he had four steals in a span of 2:11. He hit all four of his shots and eight of 10 free throws for 16 points in the period, when he also assisted on Tyson Chandler’s alley-oop dunk.
“He’s so good at hesitating and getting in the paint,” Kings guard Bobby Jackson said about Paul, a former teammate. “It’s hard to guard the guy. When he’s on top of his game like that, it’s going to be hard for anybody to beat them.”
Chandler added another alley-oop dunk on a feed from David West, giving New Orleans a 69-56 lead late in the period.
Paul began the fourth quarter on the bench and the Kings briefly got as close as 74-67 on Jackson’s free throw, but the Hornets scored the next seven points, beginning with Morris Peterson’s second 3 of the game and ending with James Posey’s steal and fast-break layup, which gave New Orleans its largest lead at 81-67.
Sacramento appeared ready to threaten once more when Brad Miller and Jackson each hit 3s late in the final quarter, the second pulling the Kings to 88-81. Paul had other ideas, responding with a 3 of his own, then grabbing his seventh steal to start a fast break that ended with his assist on Posey’s layup. Paul then hit two more free throws, giving the Hornets a 95-81 with 1:52 to go.
Posey scored 19 points, and David West 12 for New Orleans, which is playing it’s best basketball of the season going into its next contest at home against the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday.
“All the talk is about the Lakers, Celtics and Cleveland, and rightfully so,” Hornets coach Byron Scott said. “We are getting better and better each month, and that’s the important thing.”
“Obviously, we made some bad decisions early in the third quarter that got us in a rut again,” said coach Kenny Natt, who took over after Reggie Theus was fired on Monday. “It’s more our fault than anything that we weren’t as aggressive as I wanted us to be.”
Sacramento’s inability to cope with the Hornets’ hustling defense on the ball-handler proved to be a key factor in the game. The Hornets converted 18 Kings turnovers into 25 points.
Paul said his instincts help him cause turnovers, but stressed that the Hornets’ team defense deserves a lot of the credit.
“We were smothering the ball screens,” Paul explained. “That forces guys into tough passes and that just means I have to be in the right place at the right time.”
The Hornets also were the aggressors the inside, where they outscored Sacramento 48-28.
Chandler finished with 10 points. Peterson also scored 10.
Miller finished with 13 points, while Jackson had 12 for Sacramento, which has lost seven consecutive road games.
Paul scored nine points in the first quarter and the Hornets led 29-19 on Posey’s free throws late in the period. New Orleans led by 10 again after Posey’s 3 and Rasual Butler’s basket inside after a feed from Paul late in the second quarter.
The tide turned when the Kings hit three straight 3s, two by Salmons and one by Garcia, igniting a 13-0 surge that gave Sacramento a 46-43 lead after Miller’s free throws.
Peterson snapped the run with a 3 from the left corner for the last basket of the half, which tied it at 46.
The Hornets were without Peja Stojakovic (back spasms). The Kings’ Beno Udrih (left hamstring) also sat out. … The Kings won their only previous game with the Hornets this season, 105-96 in New Orleans on Nov. 19. That also was the last road win for the Kings. … The Kings are 1-3 under new coach Kenny Natt, who took over on Dec. 15 when Reggie Theus was fired. … The Hornets have held their last eight opponents to 95 or fewer points, winning seven of those games. … The Hornets are 15-1 when leading after three quarters.