WESTWEGO, La. – Chris Paul and the New Orleans Hornets hope they can keep opponents guessing about the style they'll play as they try to make a playoff push without top-scoring power forward David West.
It shouldn't be too hard, given that the Hornets are still trying to figure that out themselves.
"We don't know what type of team we are," Paul said after Tuesday's practice. "While (opponents) are guessing, we're guessing, too. We've got to find out."
Now holding the seventh of eight playoff seeds in the Western Conference, the Hornets (42-32) have eight regular-season games remaining — six at home — starting when they host sixth-place Portland (43-31) on Wednesday night.
A victory would move New Orleans into sixth and give the Hornets a tiebreaker over the Blazers, should that be a factor in deciding playoff seedings.
West, who was averaging 18.9 points and 7.6 rebounds in 35 minutes before his season-ending ligament tear in his left knee.
In West's absence, the Hornets have seen an increase in production from Carl Landry, who was acquired in a trade to give the Hornets more depth in the frontcourt. In two starts since West went down, Landry has averaged a team-best 21.5 points and eight rebounds and has shot 50 percent in 37.3 minutes per game.
"I welcome the production we've gotten from Carl on a night-in, night-out basis," Hornets coach Monty Williams said. "If he can score like that, it's going to make it easier on other guys.
"That's not the problem," Williams said. "The problem is not having the guy off the bench to do what Carl was doing. That's something we have to figure out on the fly."
Williams has been experimenting with a range of combinations lately. One involves starting center Emeka Okafor spending some time playing power forward while 7-foot reserve center Aaron Gray is on the floor.
When West went down at the end of regulation at Utah last Thursday night, the Okafor-Gray combination was effective in overtime, when the Hornets pulled out a victory.
The 6-10 Okafor, who counts quickness and agility among his strengths, sometimes moves out to defend away from the basket anyway, so alternating between center and power forward comes naturally to him, teammates said.
"It's great," Gray said of his pairing inside with Okafor. "It helps us out in rebounding. It helps us matching up. ... Carl has done a great job stepping up for us, but there are going to be times where he needs a rest (or is in) foul trouble, and who knows what could happen?"
Williams said another move he'll make, when opponents have smaller lineups on the floor, is to play reserve point guard Jarrett Jack in the backcourt with Paul.
In those instances, Paul could move to shooting guard, which would relieve him of some on-the-ball pressure and the fatigue that comes with it. Meanwhile, 6-8 swing player Trevor Ariza could move from small forward to power forward, Williams said.
"To say that we could do anything post-David West, it's hard," Williams said. "We're going to be reinventing ourselves on a night-in, night-out basis because of the situation. Some nights we're going to be able to play small. Some nights we're going to do what we did in Utah and go big. It's because of David's situation that we have to. I don't think it's going to be one thing that we do from here on out."
No matter what they try, the Hornets expect difficulty advancing in the playoffs, but won't sell themselves short.
Paul even found some inspiration from recent developments in the NCAA tournament.
"You still got to play the games," Paul began. "I don't care what sport it is or what's going on, you can't predict nothing. You never know. Who had VCU in the Final Four?"