Kobe Bryant has long been considered among the NBA's best shooting guards. It's more recently that Chris Paul has joined the same discussion regarding point guards.
Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers visit Paul's New Orleans Hornets for the first time this season on Wednesday, when two of the Western Conference's hottest teams each look for their fourth straight win.
Bryant had 28 points the last time the teams played, in Los Angeles on Nov. 6. But it was Paul's 19 points and career-high 21 assists that led the Hornets (23-11) to a 118-104 road win.
That was one of Paul's 19 double-doubles this season. He's third in the NBA with 10.3 assists per game - behind only Steve Nash and Jason Kidd - but he has more points and fewer turnovers per game than both those players.
In New Orleans' last game, Paul pleaded with Hornets coach Byron Scott to let him play the full 48 minutes, which he did for just the third time in his career and first time this season. His 28 points and 10 assists led the Hornets to a 118-113 win at Phoenix.
"We showed a lot of poise playing against one of the best teams in the west," Paul said. "Different guys stepped up all around and that's all we want."
They played that game without forward David West, who missed his first game of the season with a bruised hip. West is second on the team to Paul with 19.4 points per game and second to Tyson Chandler with 9.4 rebounds. Scott said he's hopeful West will return against Los Angeles.
All five starters scored at least 19 points, with Chandler totaling 19 points and 11 rebounds, and Peja Stojakovic scoring 23 points. Stojakovic made a career-high 10 3-pointers on 13 attempts and had a season-high 36 points in the November game against the Lakers.
The Hornets have won three in a row and eight of nine, but only two of those wins have come at home. They are 14-5 on the road, but only 9-6 at New Orleans Arena.
The Lakers (22-11), meanwhile, have won six of eight on the road and seven of eight overall, including a 117-101 win at Memphis on Tuesday. Bryant had 25 points but the Lakers were led by Derek Fisher, who had 26 points on 10-of-11 shooting from the field, including 5-of-5 from 3-point range. Bryant claimed Fisher should have been 10-of-10, that the miss was really supposed to be a pass.
"There's no way you can plan on shooting the basketball the way I did," Fisher said. "It just kind of happens for you.''
Los Angeles is averaging 117.7 points while winning its last three games, shooting 54.6 percent from the field. The Lakers have also forced 20 or more turnovers each of the last the last two games, and scored 25 points off 20 Grizzlies turnovers Tuesday.
The Hornets took two of three from the Lakers last season, but Los Angeles won its most recent visit to New Orleans on March 23, 111-105 as Bryant scored 50 points. Paul had 28 points and 12 assists in that game.
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