When the Phoenix Suns and their former league MVP visited New Orleans on Saturday night, Paul was the best point guard in the building.
Paul had 21 points and 10 assists, outplaying one of the players he admires most and lifting the Hornets to a 101-98 victory.
"It's my third year in the league. I don't expect to be at the top of the voting," said Paul, who was eighth among Western Conference guards in All-Star votes (110,688) after the league's first returns were released recently. Nash was third (317,091) behind Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady.
If Paul keeps playing as he has lately, however, it's only a matter of time before he gets more recognition.
Paul has scored 20 or more points in eight of his last nine games. He had 33 points to help the Hornets snap a 21-game, eight-year losing streak against Dallas earlier this month. He scored a career-high 43 points, capped by a game-winning driving layup in the final seconds of overtime, to lift New Orleans to a victory over Memphis on Dec. 7.
Yet he turned the focus away from himself when asked about his play against Nash, who finished with 12 points, seven assists and a pair of turnovers.
"It was a good win for us and a collective effort. When you play against a great guard in this league it's not something you do by yourself," Paul said. We did a good job of slowing him down and not allowing Steve to get his teammates involved as much, because that's when he kills you, when he has points and assists."
Accurate perimeter shooting was the difference for the Hornets, who made 12 3-pointers even as Peja Stojakovic sat out with a pulled left groin. Paul made three, the last of which put New Orleans ahead for good midway through the fourth quarter after the Suns had erased a 16-point deficit to briefly take a slim lead of their own.
"We focused tonight to try to knock down shots because we knew how important this one was," Butler said. "It's the NBA. When you've got an open shot, you've got to take it with confidence."
Shawn Marion scored 11 for the Suns, but missed badly on a runner in the lane that could have won the game in the final seconds. Instead, the airball fell to the Hornets, who got the ball quickly to Paul as the Hornets' point-guard was fouled with 0.2 seconds to go.
Paul exchanged a high-five with Hornets coach Byron Scott, then made two free throws for the final margin.
"I was proud of the way we played," Scott said. "When you play a team like Phoenix, they're going to come out and make runs, so you've got to come out and stay aggressive."
After Paul's driving layup gave New Orleans a 99-92 lead with 3:20 to go, Phoenix nearly clawed back for the win, holding the Hornets scoreless until the final second.
New Orleans, however, managed to run the shot clock down on each possession as it protected its lead and played solid defense, forcing the Suns to go scoreless on several possessions.
Stoudemires' free throws with 35.6 seconds to go cut the score to 99-98. Then the Hornets ran the shot clock down again and went inside to West, who missed with about 14 seconds to go. Phoenix was unable to take advantage, coming up short on what would have been an impressive comeback.
After being down 59-46 at halftime, the Suns opened the second half with an 8-0 run and eventually tied the game at 80 on Barbosa's 3-pointer. Bell's jumper form the top of the key early in the fourth quarter gave Phoenix its first lead since the first period.
New Orleans didn't fold as Hilton Armstrong, who finished with a season-high 11 points, scored on a strong move inside while being fouled.
The Suns took their last lead, 88-87, on Bell's jumper behind a screen at the top of the key before Paul came back with his last 3-pointer.
"We spent a lot of energy in the third and fourth quarters trying to get back in the game," Hill said. "When you're on the road against good teams you have to play hard from the start. We can't wait to turn it up just because we're a good team. We have to be ready to go. We are going to learn from this and get better and just realize that we are marked and people are going to come at us."
The Hornets have won only two of their last 13 games against Phoenix. ... New Orleans reserve Melvin Ely, whose left eye socket was fracture by an elbow from Kenyon Martin on Wednesday, missed his second straight game. Scott said he could be out as long as a month. ... The Hornets are 6-5 at home this season.