Chris Paul's scoring ability has helped the New Orleans Hornets develop from a lottery team into a title contender.
When the third-year point guard isn't scoring, however, he's still been helping his club win with his passing.
After leading the team to a victory despite his season-low point total, Paul looks to help the Hornets win their third straight Tuesday when they visit the injury-plagued Chicago Bulls.
Paul leads the Hornets (34-15) in scoring with 20.4 points per game, thanks in part to his efficiency from the field (47.5 percent) and free-throw line (87.6) - both career highs and among the top percentages for point guards.
Paul's field-goal percentage took a hit Saturday when he shot 1-for-10 and scored a season-low two points. The first-time All-Star, however, made up for it by recording 16 assists to lead New Orleans to a 112-99 victory over Memphis.
"We've got the ability to score whether he's hitting or not," said Hornets forward David West, who will also make his first All-Star appearance thanks in part to Paul's ability to draw defenses and get the ball to the open man. "You've just got to give him opportunities to find you and he'll find you."
New Orleans forward Peja Stojakovic has been equally impressed with the play of his point guard, who's second in the league with 10.9 assists per game.
"He played an amazing game and as I've said many times, he's getting better and better," Stojakovic said Saturday. "He's so mature for his age. He's leading this team in the right direction."
Stojakovic had 26 points on 10-for-19 shooting Saturday, and West added 33 points on 13-of-20 from the field as the Hornets improved to 6-4 when Paul scores fewer than 15 points. They're 3-7 when he's held to eight assists or fewer.
New Orleans, one of the NBA's most surprising contenders this season, will be trying to avoid its fourth straight loss to Chicago. The Bulls haven't won four in a row in the series since a five-game run against the Charlotte Hornets from Nov. 15, 1996-Nov. 14, 1997.
Extending their run against the Hornets could be a challenge for this season's Bulls (20-30), who have been decimated by injuries after winning 49 games and advancing to the second round of the playoffs last spring.
Luol Deng (Achilles'), Ben Gordon (wrist) and Kirk Hinrich (bruised ribs) missed Saturday's 97-87 loss at Utah. Chris Duhon had 11 points and eight assists filling in for Hinrich, while Thabo Sefolosha had a career-high 22 points for the second time in three games, but Chicago lost for the sixth time in nine contests.
"We are a little short-handed, but the guys that played, played hard," Duhon said. "They just wore us out a little bit at the end. When you are used to playing with your big guns all the time, it is easy to fall into the trap because you miss them."
Deng and Gordon aren't expected to return before this weekend's All-Star game, but Hinrich could play Tuesday.
The Bulls head into the break after Thursday's home game against Miami, while the Hornets play their first-half finale Wednesday at Milwaukee before returning to New Orleans to host All-Star weekend.
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