New Orleans fired coach Byron Scott on Thursday, hoping a new voice could help motivate the team to live up to its potential. The Hornets will have a much harder time doing so if Chris Paul is out for an extended amount of time.
With their All-Star point guard sitting because of an ankle injury, the Hornets look to avoid their sixth loss in seven road games Saturday night when they face the Atlanta Hawks, who hope to remain undefeated at Philips Arena.
New Orleans (3-7) lost six of its first nine under Scott before firing the sixth-year coach and handing the job to general manager Jeff Bower.
Bower, though, will have a hard time turning around the slumping Hornets without Paul. Paul hurt his ankle when he landed on an opponent's foot in the third quarter of an 86-78 loss to Portland in Bower's coaching debut Friday night.
Paul left the arena on crutches, saying he would not play in Atlanta and beyond that could not be sure about how serious the injury was.
"I hate to watch and I hate to know that I'm going to miss a game," said Paul, a native of Winston-Salem, N.C., who said he expected about 75 friends and relatives to attend the Atlanta game. "They just took X-rays. I don't know anything."
Even before Paul was hurt Friday, the Hornets struggled offensively. They shot 36.7 percent from the field overall while recording their lowest point total of the season. Despite what seemed like a very inauspicious debut for Bower, he claims not to be discouraged.
"We struggled scoring the ball obviously, but we didn't let our offense affect our defense and I think that's another sign of a step forward," Bower said.
The Hornets will need to make a lot more progress to start winning on the road. They've given up 106.5 points per game while losing five of their first six outside New Orleans.
The Hornets will likely have their hands full again in Atlanta. The Hawks (7-2) beat Boston 97-86 on the road on Friday night to continue their strong start. They pulled away late, holding the Celtics to 16 points in the fourth quarter.
"We needed to beat a good team on the road for our confidence level," coach Mike Woodson said. "I think that's the best team in the East. Tonight we matched them from beginning to end. From a defensive standpoint, we finally stepped up and played 48 minutes defensively."
Joe Johnson led Atlanta with 24 points and Jamal Crawford added 18 off the bench as the Hawks won in Boston for the first time in 10 games, including the playoffs.
"Since Day One, we've believed," said Johnson, averaging 24.4 points and 5.4 assists while shooting 47.0 percent from the field in his last five games against the Hornets. "Nobody's believed in us. We've been playing pretty good on the road this year."
Atlanta has also been tough to beat at home, where it's averaged 115.0 points during a 3-0 start. The Hawks haven't opened 4-0 at home since 2002-03.
The Hawks won both meetings with the Hornets last season, holding New Orleans to 79 points each time. Paul averaged 23.0 points, 10.5 assists and 3.0 steals in those games. It's unclear who will start in his place Saturday, though the job could fall to rookie Darren Collison, selected 21st overall from UCLA in the most recent draft.