After a big win, and finishing off their season sweep of the Miami Heat, the Chicago Bulls prepare to take on the New Orleans Hornets.
Even at close to full strength, New Orleans likely would have a hard time beating the surging Bulls. Minus All-Star guard Chris Paul, that challenge becomes much more difficult.
After a frightening injury, the Hornets will be without Paul on Monday night when they try to avoid a sixth consecutive loss to the Bulls, who are seeking their ninth straight home win.
Paul suffered a concussion and left the court on a stretcher in the third quarter of Sunday’s 96-81 victory at Cleveland. Averaging 15.9 points and 9.6 assists, Paul hit his forehead on the shoulder of Cleveland’s Ramon Sessions while trying to retrieve a loose ball.
Paul, who stayed on the floor as trainers from both teams attended to him, moved his legs and feet and was responsive on his way to the hospital. He rejoined the Hornets in Cleveland and accompanied them on their flight to Chicago.
“He is in good spirits, talking and cracking jokes in the background,” Hornets coach Monty Williams said. “He was ready to get out of the hospital, as most of us hate being in hospitals.”
The Hornets (37-28), who have won two in a row since losing 12 of 16, likely can’t afford to be without the four-time All-Star for long, especially with starting swingman Trevor Ariza nursing a strained groin and in danger of missing a third straight game.
New Orleans forward David West is back healthy. He scored 23 points Sunday, two nights after he sprained his ankle during a 98-91 victory at Memphis.
West hasn’t been impressive in seven career games at Chicago, averaging 10.6 points on 39.7 percent shooting. Without Paul or Ariza, West will need plenty of help against a Chicago team that is coming off a 4-1 road trip.
Two days after beating a tired Orlando club 89-81, the Bulls (43-18) swept their three-game season series against Miami with an 87-86 victory Sunday. In doing so, Chicago passed the Heat for second place in the Eastern Conference.
“We’re just taking it for what it is,” said All-Star Derrick Rose, who scored 27 points. “We’re just trying to win games, play hard and play aggressive on both ends.”
The Bulls did just that on their recent road trip, especially on the defensive end, where they gave up 80.4 points per game.
“Our defense is really improving,” forward Joakim Noah said. “We’re just trying to play the best we can. I think we still have a long way to go and we can get a lot better. That’s what is so exciting about this team.”
It would seem hard for the Bulls to get much better at the United Center, where they are 26-4 and have won 16 of 17. Chicago has not won nine straight at home since a 10-game run Feb. 28-April 11, 1998, during its last championship season.
New Orleans has lost two straight at Chicago and four of its last five visits there, averaging 87.8 points in those meetings.
Rose had 23 points with six assists while Paul finished with 15 and six assists in the Bulls’ 97-88 win at New Orleans on Feb. 12. Rose, however, has totaled 18 points on 9-of-29 shooting in two career home games versus the Hornets.
Copyright 2010 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. STATS LLC and The Associated Press contributed to this article. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.