New Orleans coach Byron Scott constantly preaches teamwork and selfless play, but he has no problem with the spotlight shining on his best player.It helps, though, that his top talent is All-Star point guard Chris Paul, who is one of the classiest and most electric athletes in the sport.
“I might be a little bit biased, but I don’t think there is a better point guard in the league,” said Scott, who played 14 years in the NBA. “He deserves all the attention and accolades he gets.
“No question about it, Chris is our leader and our most vocal player. I want people to watch how he plays the game because he does it the right way.”
Unfortunately for Paul, his lone 2008-09 visit to Quicken Loans Arena was memorable for all the wrong reasons as the Cavaliers beat the Hornets 92-78 on Friday night.
The soft-spoken Wake Forest product played with an edge all evening against waves of Cleveland defenders – including close friend LeBron James – eventually resulting in his ejection with 1:10 remaining.
“We wanted to take him out of the game as much as possible tonight,” Cavaliers guard Mo Williams said. “The whole team did a good job doing that.”
Paul did collect 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists, but was held without a steal, received two technical fouls and made three turnovers in 40 largely uneventful minutes. He didn’t debate his first “T”, which came just after the halftime buzzer, but calmly disagreed with his ejection.
“I was talking with one of (James’ buddies in the stands) and he asked me what my foul was called for,” said Paul, whose on-court conversation was overheard by lead official Steve Javie. “I said, “I don’t know,” and I got tossed. Isn’t that a trip? I’m not lying.”
While the Cavaliers’ suffocating, bump-everything-that-moves pressure kept Paul literally off-balance, it also took the luster off what could have been a fun duel between “CP3” and fellow All-NBA first-teamer James.
No doubt, ESPN was equally unhappy that the Hornets adopted the same physical style against Cleveland’s franchise player, turning the nationally televised contest into a scrum for the first three quarters.
James picked up his scoring pace in the fourth to finish with 29 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists, three steals and one block, but those numbers look a whole lot more exciting than they played out on the hardwood.
“I think it’s great for the game when LeBron and Chris are out there because they are two great guys off the court,” Scott said. “They are the type of guys you want the league to focus on. I have no problem with it at all.”
Not only are James and Paul two of the top three players in the NBA (along with Lakers guard Kobe Bryant), they have become great friends. James, in fact, says going head-to-head with him is like “playing against your brother.”
Each traveled to the other’s charity event in the offseason – Paul’s bowling tournament in Winston Salem, N.C. and James’ bicycle event in Akron – and played on the gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic basketball team in Beijing.
James, in fact, was still gloating about his pro-am bowling tournament win over Paul prior to their showdown Friday.
“He’s got his own ball, bag, wristwrap and he bowls for times a week,” he joked. “He’s supposed to be the best? Poor little guy.”
Both superstars also raised money for their civic endeavors and made more friends during their summer tour, all while working on their hoops skills.
Considering how good James and Paul already are – and where the Cavaliers and Hornets are sitting in their respective conference standings – it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them meet again in the NBA Finals this June.
The league should be so lucky.
“I got to spent some time with LeBron at Chris’ thing over the summer and found out he is truly a great person,” Scott said. “Both of those guys truly care about the game of basketball. You could see how much they matured from the Olympic experience, and they were already mature beyond their years.
“It’s kind of scary to think about how much better they’re going to become.”
Dulik may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-721-4059.