Hornets still in playoff hunt

4-7-07 -- With five games left and New Orleans 2 1/2 games out of the final playoff spot in the West, Chris Paul wasn't about to let a sore left foot sideline him again.

"He gave me that look last night that said, 'I'm playing tomorrow,"' Hornets coach Byron Scott said.

Paul scored 18 points and had 10 assists in his return, and Rasual Butler added 17 to help the Hornets beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 96-94 on Saturday night.

Paul scored 10 straight points during a crucial back-and-forth stretch in the third quarter after missing the previous night's loss to Phoenix because of the foot injury.

"Chris is a little fire cracker," Marc Jackson said. "For him to be out there with six or seven games left in the season trying to help us get to the playoffs, that means a lot."

Jackson added 15 points and 11 rebounds starting in place of injured Tyson Chandler (left big toe). David West also had 15 points for the Hornets, who trail the L.A. Clippers for the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference.

The Hornets also got plenty of help from the sinking Wolves, who had a season-high 14 3-pointers but went 11-for-38 from the floor in the second half. New Orleans also went 28 of 38 from the free-throw line while Minnesota was 10-for-14.

"They're not going to foul too many jump shooters," Wolves coach Randy Wittman said.

Rashad McCants led Minnesota with 17 points and Mike James had 15, but they combined for only seven in the second half. Kevin Garnett scored five of his 13 points in the final minute, including a 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds to play to make it 95-94.

Paul followed with a free throw and Craig Smith's shot from just inside halfcourt hit off the side of the rim at the buzzer.

"The second half, we got diverted like we always do," Garnett said. "Same ol' Same ol."'

Paul had enough quickness to frustrate the Wolves.

"I just took control of the game and started being more aggressive," Paul said. "Coming off screens, they were sort of leaving me open."

He had an unbelievable 3-point play in the third quarter during his 10-point spurt. With Garnett and Ricky Davis intentionally fouling him on a break, Paul threw up an off-balance shot that banked in. The free throw gave the Hornets a 68-67 lead.

"Funny, but it didn't start feeling well until the fourth quarter," Paul said of his foot.

New Orleans closed the quarter with a 12-8 run.

Both teams shot terribly in the fourth quarter. New Orleans was 4-for-21 while Minnesota went 5-for-20. The Wolves pulled to 86-85 on Davis' 3-pointer with 3:14 to play, but Butler answered with a 3 at 2:07 and West added a 17-footer with 38.8 seconds left.

The Wolves scored a season-high 36 second-quarter points -- rookie Randy Foye and McCants each had 12 -- en route to a 64.9-percent first-half shooting performance.