Clippers-Hornets Preview

The Associated Press

Chris Paul was the face of the New Orleans Hornets for six seasons, including the tumultuous period following Hurricane Katrina.

Paul will try to put what figures to be an emotional return to New Orleans to face his former team quickly behind him when he and the Los Angeles Clippers attempt to avoid a season-high third straight loss Thursday night.

The Hornets took Paul with the fourth overall pick in the 2005 draft, and saw a 20-win improvement the following season.

They made the playoffs three times with Paul, including in 2007-08 - the franchise's first season back in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. However, the Hornets couldn't take the next step to become true title contenders, winning only one playoff series during that stretch. Last season, they lost in six games to the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round.

That, combined with the tenuous situation of the franchise, led Paul to tell the organization he wouldn't sign an extension.

Trying to receive some compensation for the four-time All-Star, New Orleans traded Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers in December after a deal to the Los Angeles Lakers was shot down by NBA Commissioner David Stern.

"New Orleans took me in as one of their own from Day One," Paul said at his introductory press conference with Los Angeles. "I want you guys in New Orleans to know you'll always have a special place in my heart."

It's already been a tough week for Paul. Thursday is the finale of a back-to-back-to-back stretch for the Clippers, who have lost each of the first two games and seven of their last 11 overall.

After failing to reach 90 points in two straight games, Los Angeles (26-20) barely reached that mark in a 114-91 loss at Oklahoma City on Thursday. It was the eighth straight game in which the Clippers failed to reach the century mark.

Blake Griffin was held to a career-low seven points while shooting 3 of 11. Paul finished with 13 points and shot 3 of 12 from the floor.

Paul is averaging 15.4 points over his last seven games - a significant decrease from his 20.3 mark over his first 34 games as a Clipper.

"It's getting to be a little bit embarrassing," Paul said. "A couple losses here and there and we're out of the playoffs. So we've got to play with a sense of urgency. But most of all, we've got to be better."

The slump has left Los Angeles - which held the Pacific Division lead earlier this month - tied for fifth in the Western Conference and only two games ahead of ninth-place Utah.

The Clippers may be catching a break Thursday, as Paul's former team has lost four of five and owns the worst record in the conference.

New Orleans (13-35) has dropped its last five home games, including a 101-92 loss to Golden State on Wednesday.

Jarrett Jack led the Hornets with 17 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds for his first career triple-double, but it wasn't nearly enough.

"This usually doesn't happen with this team, but we didn't compete tonight," coach Monty Williams said.

With Paul on the other side of the rivalry, the Hornets could have a tough time continuing their dominance of the Clippers. They have won 15 of the last 16 overall meetings between these teams and eight in a row at home.

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