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Unheralded reserve Jannero Pargo was ready to be the Hornets' unlikely leader when the starters stumbled against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Pargo scored a season-high 24 points in 24 minutes, and New Orleans extended its season-best winning streak to six games with a 96-81 victory on Wednesday night.
"I knew it was a big game and just watching the first quarter, we were kind of hesitant," Pargo said. "I wanted to come in and kind of pick it up on both ends of the floor, which I was able to do, and it kind of got us going in the second quarter."
Pargo's 10-of-18 shooting, five assists and energy coming off the bench helped the Hornets overcome an early 12-point deficit and surge into the lead for good in the second quarter.
"We had a game plan to come out being aggressive and we were kind of timid" in the first quarter, Pargo said. "I just wanted to come out, be aggressive and help our team out that way."
David West scored 22 for the Hornets (29-12), who have won 14 of 16 games and lead the Southwest Division after their best first half of a season in franchise history.
Chris Paul had 18 points and 10 assists for New Orleans, while Tyson Chandler had nine points and 14 rebounds. Peja Stojakovic added 12 points.
"Pargo had it going ... he allowed those guys to play," Portland coach Nate McMillan said. "When we took some things away, he was aggressive and made some plays. He's a very good young guard in this league, and (New Orleans) is a good team."
LaMarcus Aldridge led Portland with 17 points, while Steve Blake hit four 3-pointers and finished with 15. Brandon Roy and Travis Outlaw each had 14 for Portland (25-17), which wound up 3-4 on its seven-game road trip.
New Orleans began to pull away when Stojakovic, who didn't score in the first half, hit a mid-range jumper and a 3-pointer to open the third quarter.
Chandler's tip-in of Paul's missed jumper and West's driving layup through a crowd fueled a 7-0 run, capped by Paul's free throws, that gave New Orleans a 67-55 lead.
Portland made one last run in the fourth quarter, starting with Roy's fast-break dunk as he was fouled. Aldridge's jumper and inside basket capped a 9-2 spurt that pulled the Blazers to 77-72 with 5:30 to go.
Then Paul turned the tide for good with a jumper in the lane, and Pargo followed with another perimeter basket. Two possessions later, Paul turned a steal into a fast-break layup for Pargo, then Paul all but sealed it when he pulled up on a drive and lofted a 9-foot fade off the glass to make it 87-74 with under — minutes remaining.
"This win gives us credibility," Pargo said. "Some people thought we were winning because we're playing a lot of teams under .500, but Portland is a good team and they have been playing well all year long."
Portland dominated early, shooting 53 percent in the first quarter. Roy scored nine straight points during a 9-1 run that gave Portland an early 25-13 lead.
Buckling down on defense, New Orleans held Portland to 35 percent shooting (20-of-57) through the last three quarters.
"Defensively, they did a great job taking the ball out of my hands," Roy said. "There were a lot of situations where they forced someone else to make a play. It was frustrating at times. I think we got tired a little bit. We settled for a lot of jump shots and they were just a more physical team tonight."
The Hornets used a gritty 15-3 run to tie it at 28, hitting seven free throws in the process, then surged into the lead behind the unlikely combination of Pargo and fellow reserve Ryan Bowen.
The pair combined for 14 straight Hornets points, with Pargo scoring eight and setting up the rest, to give New Orleans a 38-33 lead midway through the second quarter. The Hornets led 48-44 at halftime.
West scored 16 of the Hornets' 20 points in the first quarter and 18 of New Orleans' first 22 points overall. ... Attendance for the matchup of division leaders was 11,006. ... Paul has at least one steal in all 39 games in which he has played this season. ... Pargo's production helped the Hornets reserves outscore Portland's bench 34-26. The Blazers had outscored their opponents' reserves in 21 of Portland's previous 24 games. ... New Orleans and Portland split their four games against each other this season, with the home team winning each time.
Pargo scores 24 points, leads red-hot Hornets past Blazers
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