Chris Paul was yesterday's point guard, passed by newer models such as Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook, knee surgery robbing him of his quickness and a new system in New Orleans stifling his creativity. "I struggled all season," says Paul, who averaged the fewest points (15.8) of his career and fewest assists (9.8) in four years. The morning of the Hornets' first playoff game, Paul walked from his hotel in downtown Los Angeles to Staples Center, harnessing the energy of a city that has won the last two titles. The truth of the NBA dawned on him. "The regular season doesn't matter," he says. The Hornets are smaller than the Lakers and leaner on the bench, and they lost leading scorer David West to a torn left ACL a month ago. That they were tied with L.A. 2--2 was a testament to Paul and the restorative power of the playoffs. Despite stitches over his right eye, Paul averaged 30 points, 14.5 assists and 10 rebounds in the Hornets' wins, disappearing under the Lakers' 7-footers and unleashing passes so precise that his lesser-known teammates had no choice but to convert them.