NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans Hornets rookie guard Austin Rivers will miss four to six weeks after the fourth metacarpal in his right hand was fractured during Wednesday night’s devastating loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, the team said.

Rivers, who has begun to play well of late, was having one of his better games against the Lakers when Hornets director of communications Matt Ryan alerted the media during the third quarter of Rivers’ injury and that he would not return to the game.

“He hit (the hand) on one of the guys during the second quarter,” Ryan said.

Ryan said the injury will not require surgery.

Rivers played 15 minutes, 21 seconds off the bench, scored 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting and had two rebounds and a steal. More important, he was the catalyst in the team’s early surge to what appeared to be an insurmountable 25-point lead.

Rivers first entered the game at 7:42 of the first quarter with the Hornets trailing 8-6. With 5:23 showing, he made a steal and went the length of the court for a layup that gave the Hornets a 13-12 lead. That started them on their way to a 26-20 lead until Kobe Bryant sank consecutive 3-pointers in the final minute.

In the second quarter, continuing his aggressive but more under-control play of late, he really got going, and so did the Hornets. Seconds into the quarter, he drove for a basket that gave New Orleans a 30-28 lead then drove hard to the right, only to spin back left for a layup against Lakers guard Steve Blake for a 38-32 lead.

When he made a baseline floater at 6:22, the Hornets had a 46-36 lead but also had picked up on his tenacity, most notably guard Eric Gordon, and continued on a 35-10 run that produced at 63-35 lead with 2:13 left. Rivers shot 4-of-5 for eight points in the quarter, giving him 10 at the half on 5-of-6 shooting.

Rivers was out in the third quarter when the Hornets did not respond well to the Lakers’ becoming more physical and assertive.

Studying tape on defense and observing other guards offensively, Rivers, the former Duke freshman who was the 10th overall pick in last June’s draft, made obvious progress and was singled out for it by Hornets coach Monty Williams.

“That kid has gotten better,” Williams said. “We look at him on film, we look at his defensive reactions, his ability to guard the ball; he’s making better decisions on offense, he realizes he’s making mistakes. For me, that’s a step, when you realize that mistake before I have to say something to you.”

In the four games before the Lakers, he’d shot a combined 13-of-23 (56.5 percent) and averaged 8.0 points, with just five total turnovers, a stark contrast from when he shot 27 percent during the first quarter of the season.

Williams’ improvement began with the game at Boston on Jan. 16 against the Celtics, coached by his father, Doc Rivers. In his first game against his dad’s team, Rivers scored eight points on 3-of-6 shooting with no turnovers in 22:43 in the Hornets’ 90-78 win. In the nine games before the Celtics, he’d shot 3-of-26.

“He wasn’t playing much before (Boston); he probably thought he wasn’t going to play in that game,” Williams said. “And, he had a solid game.”

Williams credited assistant coach Dave Hanners for working with Rivers and teaching him the nuances of the game. Rivers has worked hard trying to absorb the coaching, Williams said, and his work in practice on shooting and drills since training camp has been obvious.

Smith has surgery

The Hornets said power forward Jason Smith had surgery Wednesday in Los Angeles to repair his torn right labrum. Recovery is expected to take four to six weeks, and he will begin rehabilitation immediately.

Smith injured the shoulder on Dec. 12 in a game at Oklahoma City while trying to block a dunk by Thunder small forward Kevin Durant. He missed the next seven games, then returned and has played in discomfort.

He averaged 8.2 points and 3.6 rebounds in 51 games this season.