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Portland Blazers vs New Orleans Hornets

Portland (6-3) at New Orleans (3-6)

Coming off Chris Paul’s(notes) best season and consecutive playoff appearances, the New Orleans Hornets had high expectations entering 2009-10.

Coach Byron Scott was the first casualty of those expectations.

After a slow start, the Hornets have fired Scott and replaced him with general manager Jeff Bower, who will make his head coaching debut Friday when New Orleans hosts the Portland Trail Blazers.

On Thursday, the Hornets announced that Bower, who has been part of the organization for more than 14 years, would replace Scott as coach. Bower was an assistant coach for New Orleans in 2003-04 under Tim Floyd, who has now been re-hired as Bower’s assistant.

The Hornets (3-6) are hoping Bower’s knowledge of the team he built will help it snap out of a disappointing start.

“I told Jeff, ‘The genie’s out of the bottle,’” Hornets chief operating officer Hugh Weber said. “Nobody can say he doesn’t have the right players. … Jeff has hand-selected this team, and we like the idea that now he’ll be held accountable for the results.

“Our expectations are high. Our sense of urgency is high. Our patience is low and we hope that translates into results quickly.”

Scott’s firing came one day after the Hornets’ worst loss of the season - a 124-104 defeat at Phoenix in which New Orleans gave up 40 points in the first quarter. Scott led the Hornets to arguably their best season in 2007-08, when they won a franchise-record 56 games and reached the Western Conference semifinals. They made the playoffs again last season as the seventh seed, but lost in five games to Denver in the first round.

Bower said he, Scott and the ownership had worked together in the offseason to plan for 2009-10, and that the early results have been unacceptable.

“We believe our personnel has the ability to perform at a much higher level than it has been,” Bower said.

Bower’s immediate concern will be trying to find a way to improve the team’s defense. New Orleans is giving up 105.0 points per game after allowing 94.3 - fifth-best in the league - in 2008-09.

“We’ve got to be receptive to what this brings because what we had wasn’t working,” said David West(notes), the only player left on the Hornets’ roster from Bower’s stint as an assistant. “Hopefully we can get some different results.”

Paul, who was not available for comment, is off to another hot start despite the struggles of his teammates, averaging 26.1 points and 9.3 assists.

Bower’s first game will be a tough one. Portland (6-3) has won four in a row, including wins at Memphis and Minnesota on back-to-back nights to begin its five-game road trip. The Blazers beat the Timberwolves 107-84 on Wednesday.

Rudy Fernandez(notes) scored 12 of his 15 points on 3-pointers, while Greg Oden(notes) led the team with a season-high 18 points and 11 rebounds. Portland shot 55.3 percent and outrebounded Minnesota 41-29.

Oden’s double-double was the second of the season for the former top overall draft pick. He had 16 in 2008-09.

“He’s slowly showing some things that we haven’t seen him do,” coach Nate McMillan said. “He makes good decisions. I think he’s a good passer. I think he’s very patient on the block.”

Portland and New Orleans split four meetings last season, with each team winning once on the road.

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