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Paul injured again in Hornets win over Blazers

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Perhaps no player could use a break more
than New Orleans' Chris Paul.

The Hornets' rookie left New Orleans' 102-86 win over the
Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night after hurting his
shoulder in a third-quarter collision -- the latest in a string of
injuries for the young point guard.

Kirk Snyder scored 22 points and Aaron Williams added a
season-high 14 points for New Orleans, which was in control when
Paul left. The Hornets also got 13 points from Desmond Mason, 11
from Speedy Claxton and 10 apiece from David West and P.J. Brown in
the win.

Paul slammed into 7-foot-3, 305-pound Blazers center Ha
Seung-Jin, with 6:17 left in the third quarter and remained on the
floor for a few moments, kicking his legs in pain. Already wearing
a flak jacket to protect his bruised left ribs, Paul grabbed at his
left shoulder, which made contact with Ha and then with the floor
as he rolled to the ground.

He put ice on the shoulder, then pulled his warmup top over his
jersey and remained on the bench for the rest of the game.

"His body needs this," Snyder said. "It's kind of good
because he's a big part of our team. We've won some games without
him, but we kind of need him. We know we need him for the stretch.
This just gives him time to rest and other guys to rest, too."

Paul had missed the Hornets' last three games with bruised ribs.
He's also still wearing a protective sleeve on his right thumb to
protect a ligament he tore in early January. With the All-Star game
this weekend, the Hornets are off until next Tuesday's game at
Indiana.

"It's a great time just to get away for a little while and give
my shoulder and my ribs time to heal," said Paul, who had one
point, five rebounds and seven assists before the injury.

The NBA's rookie leader in points, assists, steals and minutes
said he didn't even consult team doctors about the injury and
didn't return because the Hornets were comfortably ahead. He said
he still intends to participate in the All-Star skills competition
and Rookie Challenge this weekend.

"I'm planning on it unless I wake up Friday morning and I can't
walk," Paul said. "Hopefully, that won't be the case."

The Hornets pulled ahead with a 15-3 run to start the second
quarter. Claxton, who had started in Paul's place the past three
games, scored eight points on three layups and a pair of free
throws during the run. His driving layup made it 43-24, and New
Orleans led by at least 15 the rest of the way.

Mason stretched the advantage to 79-55 when he dunked the ball
with his right hand, then went to the line to complete a
three-point play near the end of the third quarter.

Rasual Butler added a 3-pointer from the right wing and Moochie
Norris -- acquired from Houston on Monday as an extra backup to Paul
at the point guard position -- hit a jumper to make it 85-58 in the
fourth.

With mostly reserves on the court for both teams, the Blazers
cut the deficit to 99-84 on Martell Webster's 3-pointer from the
left side with 46.2 seconds left.

Zach Randolph, Webster and Juan Dixon all scored 12 for the
Blazers, who were outrebounded 51-38 and outscored 52-36 in the
paint.

"The ball is not moving on offense," Portland coach Nate
McMillan said. "When we don't score or we don't get our touches,
we're taking it down to the defensive end of the floor."

The Hornets have won five in a row for the first time since the
end of the 2002-03 season and enter the All-Star break 29-23 -- six
games over .500 for the first time since Jan. 30, 2004. New Orleans
was 11-42 at the break last season.

"It's been a fun first half," Hornets coach Byron Scott said.
"It's been tough at times. You go through growing pains (being) so
young.

"For the most part, I've had a great time teaching these guys
and trying to make them understand how this game, in my mind,
should be played, and they're doing a great job."

Scott said the young team with some "castoffs" from other
teams has jelled so well it has caused him to raise expectations
from the beginning of the season.

"We have a bunch of guys on this team who want to be here and
everybody has confidence in each other," Paul said. "It's not
like we're going out every game hoping that we can win. I think
we're going into every game now with the confidence pretty much
knowing that we can win."
^Notes:@ New Orleans forward Jackson Vroman sprained his right ankle
in the first quarter. He left with 19.7 seconds remaining and did
not return. ... Paul had two steals to tie the Hornets' rookie
record for steals with 104 this season. Kendall Gill also had that
many in 1990-91. Paul already has the most assists by a rookie in
Hornets history.