<
>

Paul out two weeks with torn ligament in thumb

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Even after tearing a ligament in his thumb,
New Orleans point guard Chris Paul isn't ready to accept that he'll
miss a basketball game with an injury for the first time he can
remember.

The team expects Paul -- the league's leading rookie in points,
assists and steals -- to miss at least two weeks after the injury
during New Orleans' 90-80 win against Portland on Friday night.

But Paul, who said he's never missed a game with an injury,
insisted that Saturday's game at Atlanta would be the first time
only "if it doesn't feel better in the morning."

"You never know," Paul said, insisting he was serious. "I'm
going to pray about it."

Paul tore the ligament on the inside of his right thumb when he
reached out to defend Steve Blake as Blake drove to the basket 36
seconds into the second half. The injury will not require surgery.

"I could feel it," Paul said. "At first I thought it might
just be jammed."

The Hornets' first-round draft pick, Paul entered the game
leading all NBA rookies with 16.5 points, 7.5 assists and 2.3
steals per game.

Paul, who is from North Carolina, said 50 to 60 members of his
family were planning to attend the Hornets' game at Atlanta on
Saturday night. He didn't want to admit they'd be disappointed.

"I might be playing," he said.

Immediately after Paul's injury, the Hornets yielded a 19-1 run
and allowed Portland to take the lead for the first time in the
game.

"The players' minds were on their teammate instead of the game,
which is understandable," Hornets coach Byron Scott said. "Chris
is a very big part of what we do, so I can understand that.

"I thought after a while that they had to realize that we still
had to win this game."

Paul returned to the bench with his thumb wrapped as the Hornets
pulled away in the fourth quarter. He said the injury will be
difficult for him to deal with, not only because it could hurt his
Rookie of the Year campaign.

"It's extremely disappointing because I cannot stand to watch
basketball, especially when it's guys that you practice with
everyday," Paul said. "You always want to go out there and help
them as much as possible.

"If I'm not playing [Saturday], it'll be extremely tough to
watch the game, but I know I can still sit over there and support
them."

Scott said he would start Speedy Claxton, who has 50 career
starts, for the first time this season. Claxton's average of 12.4
points ranks third on the Hornets.