Hornets preparing for the worst or subtly appealing to Chris Paul’s pride?

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As has been made abundantly clear over the last few weeks, the New Orleans Hornets are in a tough spot. Most reports have Chris Paul with one foot out the door — a colossally bad omen for the franchise in virtually every sense. Paul is the Hornets’ livelihood. He is the team’s leader, its star player, and the one foundational piece on the roster. He’s an All-World talent, and due to a variety of factors, his time in New Orleans may be coming to a close.

New York is reportedly Paul’s preferred destination, although he openly acknowledges the difficulties in wanting to be traded there. Still, a column from David Aldridge of NBA.com paints the Hornets’ front office as a place of sobering realism; they seemed to have embraced the possibility that Paul may leave, and are exploring any options that will allow the franchise to move on following his possible departure:

The Hornets are going into this with eyes wide open. They know that Paul spent much of the summer in New York at lockout meetings — and also with Knicks star Carmelo Anthony. They know that even if he can’t get as big a salary from the Knicks as with other teams, it’s likely his representatives have all manner of endorsements at the ready in New York that would make up the difference. They believe he’d prefer going to a team where he doesn’t have to be “the man,” and that the Knicks would be just that, with Anthony and All-Star Amar’e Stoudemire willing and able to take the spotlight and the heat that come with it.

Aldridge’s full column is worth a read, primarily for the display of pragmatism shown in the Hornets’ front office. These are difficult times for that franchise, but refusing to fall into denial over their prospects of keeping Paul could pay off in some form.

Then again, I couldn’t help but read the above section without notice of the rhetoric that, if you’ll notice, comes straight from Hornets sources. The basketball world has a quick, visceral response to players who shrink from their responsibilities as “the man.” LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh received rampant criticism last summer when they decided to team up, as some analysts (and more often, pseudo-analysts) took issue with the Heat’s diffusion of responsibility. Being a franchise player is a sacred duty in the NBA, and declaring a certain player — especially one of Paul’s stature — as unworthy by deficiency or by personality is a heavy claim.

In all likelihood, this is a sincere message from the Hornets that they believe Paul would be happiest playing with other stars. That much is the truth, after all. However, in an age where media control is so important, I wouldn’t completely disregard the possibility of the Hornets appealing to Paul’s sense of pride with Aldridge’s column as the medium.

Grizzlies beat slumping Pacers, who fall into tie for final playoff spot

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Mike Conley matched his career high with seven 3-pointers on his way to 36 points, helping the Memphis Grizzlies rout the Indiana Pacers 110-97 on Wednesday night.

Vince Carter had 21 points and eight rebounds, and Zach Randolph finished with 17 points as Memphis snapped a four-game losing streak. Conley went 13 for 21 from the field.

Paul George led the Pacers with 22 points, Aaron Brooks, who provided an early spark from outside the arc, had 18 points, and Thaddeus Young finished with 16.

Indiana lost for the fourth time in five games.

Memphis played without All-Star center Marc Gasol, who missed his third straight game with a left foot strain. But Conley helped the Grizzlies get off the fast start, and Pacers were never able to catch up.

Memphis led by as many as 22 in the second quarter and carried a 72-53 advantage into the break. Conley scored 22 points in the first half, and the Grizzlies went 10 for 17 from beyond the arc in the first two periods.

Brooks made four 3-pointers and scored 14 in the first half for Indiana.

The Grizzlies led 96-79 after three, and the sliding Pacers never threatened in the fourth.

Indiana (37-38) dropped into a tie with Miami for the last spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Both are two games behind Milwaukee and Atlanta.

The Heat, Bucks and Hawks all won Wednesday night.

TIP-INS

Pacers: Brooks made a 3-pointer in the first quarter to reach 800 for his career. … Indiana dropped to 0-8 in road games on the second night of a back-to-back.

Grizzlies: JaMychal Green was out with left shoulder soreness. That caused Memphis to use its 22nd different starting lineup this season. … Memphis scored 38 points in the first quarter, matching its highest point total for any quarter this season. … Memphis has made at least 10 3-pointers in 36 games. … In the third quarter, Carter passed Ray Allen (24,505) for 22nd in NBA history for career points scored. … Reserve guard Andrew Harrison left in the third quarter with a right ankle injury.

PACERS HOMECOMINGS

Pacers forward Thaddeus Young played high school basketball in Memphis and still lives there. Pacers guard Monta Ellis has a home in the Eads community east of Memphis.

HOME STRETCH

Memphis (41-34), which sits seventh in the Western Conference playoff race, has a beneficial schedule down the stretch. Of its seven remaining games, five are at home, and five are against teams with losing records.

UP NEXT

Pacers: Visit Toronto on Friday.

Grizzlies: Host the Dallas Mavericks on Friday.

Three Mavericks teammates restrain Devin Harris, who still gets ejected (video)

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Dallas guard Devin Harris was ejected from Wednesday night’s 121-118 loss to New Orleans after angrily protesting calls made by official Ben Taylor.

Harris was assessed two quick technical fouls by Taylor, the first after Harris protested Taylor’s decision to whistle him for a personal foul when he collided with Pelicans’ guard Jordan Crawford.

The impact with Crawford sent Harris crashing to the court, marking the second time in the period that Harris had gone down hard. The first time, no foul was called when a collision with Pelicans’ guard E'Twaun Moore left Harris flat on his back.

When Harris was assessed the first technical, he went into a tirade and had to be restrained by teammates as he advanced toward Taylor. That triggered his ejection.

Bucks’ Malcolm Brogdon beats shot clock, Celtics with dagger (video)

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Who should win Rookie of the Year?

Joel Embiid has been, by far, the best rookie while on the court, but a season-ending injury will limit him to just 31 games. Malcolm Brogdon has been next best over the full course of the season. Dario Saric is making a heck of a finishing kick, and with a couple weeks left, he can still catch Brogdon.

But Brogdon got his own late signature moment in the Bucks’ 103-100 win over the Celtics tonight.

With the Bucks up one in the final seconds and the shot clock nearing expiration, Brogdon hit an off-balance jumper with 3.9 seconds left to produce the final margin.

Milwaukee’s win drops Boston (48-27) to second in the Eastern Conference, behind only the Cavaliers (47-26). The Bucks (39-36) keep pace with the Hawks in a tie for fifth.

Russell Westbrook scores most points ever in triple-double, 57

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Russell Westbrook led a double-digit comeback in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. Been there done, that.

Westbrook hit a defining buzzer-beating 3-pointer. Been there done, that.

Westbrook posted a historic triple-double. Been there, done that.

All three in one game?

That’s a new level for Westbrook, who lifted the Thunder to a 114-106 win over the Magic tonight while posting an incredible stat line: 57 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists.

James Harden scored 53 in a triple-double just this season, and Westbrook has already one-upped that record.

This MVP race is one for the ages.