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Paul posts 30 points, 19 assists as Hornets edge Nuggets

NEW ORLEANS -- Chris Paul may never forget how embarrassed he felt after the Hornets' record-tying 58-point playoff loss at home to the Denver Nuggets last spring.

On Friday night, the rest of New Orleans was pleased to see he was still a little miffed about it.

Motivated by the memory of that lopsided loss, Paul played his best game of the season and narrowly missed a triple-double in lifting New Orleans to a 98-92 victory over the Nuggets.

Paul finished with 30 points, a season-high 19 assists and nine rebounds, most of it coming during a sensational second half that helped the Hornets overcome a deficit that reached 15 points in the second quarter.

"This is what you play for," Paul said. "Our coach told us before the game, 'When you lose to a team in the playoffs, it's always a rivalry.' And this team embarrassed us when we played here last year. We definitely wanted this one. Yes, it's just one win. But we really wanted to beat those guys."

Paul scored 26 points in the second half, and with his assists combined for 41 of the Hornets' 52 points over the final two quarters. Peja Stojakovic added 24 points, including four 3-pointers, to help New Orleans win its second straight game. David West scored 12 points and Emeka Okafor had 12 rebounds and five blocks.

"We definitely owed them," said Hornets guard Devin Brown, who scored 10 points, including a long 3-pointer in the fourth quarter.

J.R. Smith scored 25 points and Carmelo Anthony had 17 for Denver, which was without starting point guard Chauncey Billups because of a pulled left groin.

Nene had 15 points and 10 rebounds and Ty Lawson scored 14, but the Nuggets finished 16 points below their average for the season coming into the game.

"We missed Chauncey, of course," Anthony said. "Once they figured out he wasn't playing, they made it their strategy to keep the ball out of my hands, which turned out to be a good scheme."

New Orleans (12-13) has not been at .500 since winning its second game of the season, but is now 9-7 since Jeff Bower took over as head coach, with Tim Floyd as his lead assistant, and could even its record on Sunday in Toronto.

Bower said more than competitive fire fueled his team's comeback against Denver.

"A lot was made of the emotion of this game," he said. "Obviously, it was something that everyone is well aware of. We won tonight because of execution as opposed to emotion."

Trailing 58-51 early in the third quarter, New Orleans stormed ahead with a 10-0 run ignited by Stojakovic's back-to-back 3s and capped by Paul's steal that set up his jumper from the top of the key. The shot began a torrid third quarter for Paul, who poured in 18 points in the period after scoring only four in the first half.

Paul could not miss, whether he was heaving up a bailout 3 as the shot clock expired or driving for an underhanded scoop while being bumped by Denver center Chris Andersen. Paul was 7 of 7 in the period and delighted the crowd with a driving layup during which his fake pass froze Kenyon Martin underneath the basket. His off-balance jumper staked New Orleans to a 79-71 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Smith, a former Hornets first-round draft pick, quickly pulled Denver into a tie by scoring the next eight points while Paul was on the bench. Bower then reinserted Paul and he quickly put New Orleans ahead again with a fadeaway off the dribble and a short jumper.

Anthony's free throws cut Denver's deficit to 94-90 with 1:24 to go, but Paul responded with a running floater with 1:05 left. On New Orleans' next possession, Paul missed a runner in the lane but grabbed the rebound, burning more precious seconds before hitting a step-back jumper to make it 98-90 with 19 seconds left.

"We had a lot of opportunities to win," Nuggets coach George Karl began, "but Chris Paul and his greatness was very evident at the end of that game."

It was a vintage performance by Paul -- a total takeover of a game that seemed to belong to Denver early on.

With the scored tied at 31 early in the second quarter, Andersen hit a short jumper that began a 14-0 Nuggets run.

Andersen later scored inside during the surge, which also including driving dunks by Smith and Nene. Arron Afflalo's free throws made it 45-31.

The Hornets kept the game from getting out of hand by closing the half on a 10-1 run that included a three-point play and 3-pointer by James Posey, and only trailed 52-46.

Game notes
Paul has seven straight double-doubles since returning from his left ankle sprain. ... Anthony, who has scored 30 or more points 17 times this season, failed to reach 20 for only the second time. ... New Orleans is 10-3 at home.