- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 2, 2011

NEW ORLEANS | Jason Smith might be a better center than he thought.

The reserve power forward scored a career-high 20 points in a rare start at center and the New Orleans Hornets defeated Washington 97-89 on Tuesday night, dropping the Wizards to 0-25 on the road.

“It was a special game, a career night for me,” said Smith, who started because of Emeka Okafor’s left oblique muscle strain.

“Mek is such a great player and he plays around the rim,” Smith said. “I just went out there and tried to play aggressive like he would. We really need him back healthy, but in the meantime we have a lot of guys that are willing to step up.”

Chris Paul had 15 points and nine assists and Trevor Ariza had 16 points for New Orleans, which snapped a two-game skid.

While Okafor’s injury left the Hornets without a starter averaging a double-double in points and rebounds, the 7-foot Smith looked comfortable filling in and hit his first nine shots on an array of dunks, tip-ins and jump shots from as far as 18 feet.

“He brought the right kind of energy tonight,” Hornets coach Monty Williams said. “Sometimes, Jason will go for offensive rebounds he doesn’t have a chance to grab or foul someone for no apparent reason, and tonight he was knocking down shots, he was attacking the rim, he made the right cuts and got to the free throw line. Defensively he didn’t get exploited as bad as most people would have expected. … He did a good job tonight. Obviously when you make shots like that it makes it look a lot better.”

Nick Young scored 30 points for Washington, which trailed by double digits most of the second half in losing its sixth straight overall.

Andray Blatche had 21 points and nine rebounds, and Kirk Hinrich added 10 points for the Wizards, who are four road losses from matching the 1992-93 Dallas Mavericks’ NBA worst 0-29 start on the road.

“We’re not giving in and we’re not giving up,” Blatche said. “We’re just playing scared. It’s tough when you fight the whole game and you come up short. … I’m sure that if we keep playing like we’re playing, we’re going to pull off a road win.”

The Hornets led by as many as 17 points in the fourth quarter when David Andersen hit a jumper, but the Wizards responded with a quick 7-0 spurt capped by Hinrich’s layup as he was fouled to make it 85-75 with more than half the quarter left.

New Orleans then missed on its next possession, but Willie Green, who had 11 points, stole the ball from Hinrich and went the other way for a fastbreak layup. New Orleans was then able maintain a double-digit lead until less than a minute remained.

David West and Marcus Thornton both scored 10 points for New Orleans, which outshot Washington 48.6 percent (35 of 72) to 45.8 percent (33 of 72) and outrebounded the Wizards 41-34.

Smith, who played 25 minutes, scored the Hornets’ first three baskets on a tip-in and two dunks. The third-year pro had 10 of the Hornets’ first 16 points less than 7 minutes into the game.

Smith said he thought Washington had trouble defending him and West at the same time.

“We kind of gave them a little bit of a matchup problem,” Smith said. “Starting two (big) guys that can dribble and shoot is a tough matchup for anybody.”

Washington briefly took the lead when JaVale McGee corralled Young’s alley-oop lob with one hand and jammed it as he was being fouled by Aaron Gray. Young later hit one of his four 3s to give him 11 points for the quarter and Washington a 26-22 lead.

Paul hit a technical free throw and a 3 during a four-point possession, then set up Ariza’s transition 3 at the first quarter horn to highlight a 9-0 run capped by Green’s driving floater early in the second quarter.

Soon after Smith returned in the second quarter, he scored inside as he was fouled, giving the third-year pro what was then a career-high 15 points in only 10 minutes of action.

Paul scored the Hornets’ last seven points of the half, closing with a floater as he was fouled by rookie John Wall to put New Orleans up 55-44.

Notes: Gray, who had been out with a left ankle sprain since Jan. 21, played 15 minutes backing up Smith, hitting his only two shots and grabbing eight rebounds. … The second-worst road start in NBA history belongs to the 1974-75 New Orleans Jazz, who opened 0-28 away from the Big Easy. … Rashard Lewis of the Wizards fouled out with 4:25 left.


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