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Paul dominates late as Clippers beat Hornets 96-93

The SportsXchange

NEW ORLEANS -- In November, this might have been an insignificant game, but not now - not with the Los Angeles Clippers needing every victory down the stretch to better their seeding for the Western Conference playoffs.

So when Chris Paul looked up at the scoreboard Friday night and saw his Clippers trailing the undermanned New Orleans Hornets 75-65 with 8:31 left, he knew he had to do something Chris Paul-like.

"I told the guys, 'We've got to win games like this,'" said Paul, who despite being frustrated most of the game made an 18-foot jumper and six free throws in the final minute to lift the slumbering Clippers to 96-93 victory. "It's not always going to be pretty."

The Clippers (53-26) scored on 15 of their last 16 possessions during a 31-18 run over the final 6:52, the key stretch in an overpowering 39-30 fourth-quarter.

Paul scored 17 points - including nine points in the final 52.3 seconds -- as the Clippers avoided what would have been a costly loss to an injury-ravaged team playing without rookie forward Anthony Davis and guard Greivis Vasquez.

The Clippers' fourth consecutive victory set up a critical road game Saturday night against Memphis, which improved its record to 54-25 with an 80-78 victory over Houston.

"We know what's at stake," said Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro. "Now we've got to go out and earn it. We've got to find ways to win. We will need to control the glass much better."

Paul also had 14 assists for his 30th double-double of the season. Blake Griffin added 20 points for the Clippers, and Eric Bledsoe came off the bench to score all nine of his points in the fourth quarter when the Clippers went to a small lineup to add scoring punch and defensive pressure.

Bledsoe had a key steal against Hornets point guard Brian Roberts that led to a breakaway layup attempt on which he was fouled hard by Ryan Anderson. Bledsoe made one free throw but then came back on the Clippers' next possession to hit a 3-pointer from the right baseline, cutting the Hornets' lead to five.

Bledsoe followed up with a reverse layup and then made another crucial play when he rebounded a Paul miss and dunked the ball home with 25.8 seconds left, putting Los Angeles up 90-85.

Paul's jumper over Anderson on a switch one possession earlier started his nine-point run. On the next three possessions, the Hornets fouled Paul quickly to stop the clock, but Paul came through, going 6 of 6 from the line.

"The last five or six minutes, we really locked in on defense," Del Negro said. "That's a good sign. But I was disappointed early with out energy. The tempo of the game never found us. We didn't push the ball hard enough. We finally got some energy."

"We didn't have much energy tonight, and that starts with me," Paul admitted. "I was dead early."

But he was alive late, which was even more important.

The Hornets (27-53) got a game-high 25 points from Eric Gordon, but they killed their chances with horrendous foul shooting, going 17 of 32 from the line (53.1 percent). They also allowed 31 points in the last seven minutes during the 39-point Los Angeles fourth-quarter rally.

"(Giving up) 39 points is just hard to swallow," said New Orleans coach Monty Williams. "We've got a number of things working against us, but we can't give in to those excuses. We just have to go out and battle. That's what we did. We just gave up too many points in the fourth, and so did they."

The Clippers came out sluggish, looking as though they were thinking about Saturday night's important road showdown with Memphis. The Clippers missed 12 of their first 14 3-point attempts, and Paul made his first field goal with 3:51 left in the second quarter.

The Hornets also went just 5 of 16 from the foul line in the first half, but they stayed close because of Robin Lopez's 15 points and eight rebounds. Lopez finished with 19 and 12.

NOTES: Both Denver and Memphis, the third and fifth seeds in the West, respectively, had advance scouts at the game to keep tabs on the Clippers... Clippers guard Chauncey Billups did not play because of a strained right groin. ... Hornets rookie forward Anthony Davis sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee in a loss to Sacramento on Wednesday night and will miss the final three games of the season. An MRI revealed there was no structural damage to his knee, and Davis will not need surgery. Davis suffered the injury taking a charge against Marcus Thornton late in the fourth quarter. Davis averaged 18.8 points and 9.8 rebounds in his previous four games and 13.5 points and 8.2 rebounds for the entire season. "We're blessed that it's not an ACL or anything crazy like that," said Hornets coach Monty Williams. "It gave me pause for a second because it's a situation I've tried to avoid all season -- him getting hurt. He's taken a beating all season." ... New Orleans point guard Greivis Vasquez also sat out with a sprained left ankle.
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