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Sunday, November 14, 2010
Healthy, happy Chris Paul leads perfect N.O.

By Jeff Caplan

DALLAS -- First-year New Orleans Hornets general manager Dell Demps and first-year coach Monty Williams had to have a sit-down with star Chris Paul to convince the seemingly disgruntled point guard that they had a plan for success.

Paul, the center of trade rumors that he never actually made public during the offseason, apparently bought in. A late trade for Trevor Ariza has been a spark and Paul and the Hornets come to Dallas on Monday night as the NBA's only unbeaten team at 8-0. The Mavs (6-2) are feeling good, too, riding their first three-game win streak of the season, including two in a row at home.

"Momentum is something we’ve been talking about getting. We have a little now and we want to keep it going," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "We’re going to have to be ready. I’ve watched them. It’s no fluke, I mean they’re good. They’ve got two or three All-Star-caliber guys: Paul, David West, [Emeka] Okafor, Ariza is playing great. It’s a team that’s going to be tough to deal with."

A guy the Mavs have long hoped they might be able to pry free via a trade and would love to have leading their club for years to come -- as would every team that doesn't already employ Deron Williams or Rajon Rondo -- Paul is healthy after an injury-ridden 2009-10 season and he's apparently happy with the direction the organization's new leadership is headed.

Paul is averaging 17.0 points on 50.5 percent shooting, 10.3 assists and 5.3 rebounds. All five starters are averaging in double-figures. Everyone is getting involved as New Orleans averages 22.6 assists a game, ranking seventh in the NBA.

But, Paul and the offense haven't been the story during their impressive run in which they've handed the San Antonio Spurs their lone loss and have also beaten the Portland Trail Blazers, Miami Heat, Denver Nuggets and the Milwaukee Bucks twice.

With a healthy Okafor and a hustling Ariza and Paul combining for nearly five steals a game, defense is the big story. The Hornets are holding the opposition to 89.8 points a game, second-best in the league, and 42.3 percent shooting from the field, also second-best, behind the Mavs. New Orleans' point-differential is third-best in the league at 9.38 points, one of three teams with a differential better than 9.00.

"We’ve got elevate ourselves," Carlisle said, noting the Mavs didn't play exceedingly well in the 99-90 win over Philadelphia on Friday night. "This is two games in a row against the top team in the league right now, not only in terms of their record, but their differential is massive, almost as good as the Lakers (10.4). They’re doing it by playing hard, efficient basketball. They’re a low-tunover team, they’re hitting 3s, Paul is playing great. It’s not an accident. They're playing as well as their record."

Dallas' defense has been its most pleasing surprise in the early going, allowing just 91.5 points a game, third in the league behind New Orleans and the Boston Celtics.

Monday's game is the first of back-to- back matchups between the Southwest Division rivals. They'll play again Wednesday night in New Orleans.

"It's a long season. They've gotten off to a good start, but there's a lot of basketball to be played," Jason Kidd said. "The way the schedule sets up now we have New Orleans twice, so it's kind of a playoff situation when you play one team twice in a row so we're looking forward to that challenge. They're a good team. Nobody probably really talked about them being a playoff team, but they're right there. They're undefeated and playing well."