Hornets trump Heat 96-93
Emeka Okafor evoked memories of his dominant college days and helped Chris Paul get the best of his buddy, LeBron James.
Okafor had a season-high 26 points and 13 rebounds, Paul had 13 points, 19 assists and five steals, and New Orleans remained unbeaten with a 96-93 victory over the Miami Heat on Friday night that gave the Hornets (5-0) their best start in franchise history.
"Mek was outstanding tonight," Paul said. "Every time he
stepped out on the court, he played with a lot of passion and I think when he gets going, we all feed off of him. He just played a great game."
David West added 15 points, including crucial free throws with 7.2 seconds to go after Chris Bosh's 3 had pulled Miami within 94-93. Dwyane Wade gave up a potential tying 3-point attempt and passed to Eddie House, whose shot rimmed out in the final seconds.
Miami did not take its first lead until James' free throws made it 90-89 with 59.8 seconds left, but the Hornets responded with Marco Belinelli's free throws, and then Trevor Ariza's 3.
"One thing we have to continue to learn, that every time we step out on the basketball court no matter who we're going against, we can't just show up, you know, because we have this uniform on, because we have who we have on the court," James said. "We have to play and it's not about Xs and Os, it's about the energy level...."
"We know we can still make a comeback because of the talent that we have but teams are always going to be excited to play us," James continued. "If we don't match that effort early, then it's always an uphill battle throughout the whole game and that's what it was."
Wade led all scorers with 28 points to go with 10 rebounds. He scored 12 points in the fourth quarter, and went 13 of 13 from the foul line.
New Orleans led 86-79 inside the final five minutes when Wade ignited Miami's late surge with a 3. He then drew Belinelli into a foul on another 3-point attempt and made all three free throws to cut it to 86-85 with 3:35 still left.
Paul set up Okafor for a basket inside, and the Hornets appeared ready to put it away when Paul used a crossover dribble to create space and drove in for an apparent floater off the glass. However, officials called Paul for a charge and then Paul's response drew a technical foul.
Soon after, James, who had 20 points and 10 assists, finally put Miami in the lead, and it appeared that the dream start of rookie Hornets coach Monty Williams was about to come to an end.
Instead, the Hornets rallied and held on.
"It's nice to be part of a group who plays hard every night," Williams said. "Different guys are stepping up. ... The start is great, but we are going to win a lot of games if we play defense like that."
New Orleans outshot Miami 49 percent to 42 percent. Okafor was 12 of 13 from the field and had a block.
"My team, they got me involved early," Okafor said. "That's important. It gets you going, gives you energy."
Ariza finished with 13 points for New Orleans and Jason Smith had 12.
Bosh had 15 points for Miami and Zydrunas Ilgauskas scored 10. The loss meant that James played more than 41 fruitless minutes and Wade 40, and the Heat have another game Saturday night at home against New Jersey.
After taking a nine-point halftime lead, New Orleans protected its advantage by matching Miami basket-for-basket throughout the third quarter and went up by as much as 72-59 late in the period after Paul set up consecutive fast-break dunks by Ariza, the second
sending the crowd into a raucous standing ovation that lasted nearly 30 seconds.
Bosh quieted the crowd a bit with a jumper late in the shot clock, then James his few free throws to trim it to 72-64 heading into the final quarter.
The Hornets dominate early despite West being called for his second foul with 9:08 still remaining in the first quarter, forcing him to go to the bench. Smith replaced him and thrived, scoring eight points and grabbing five rebounds during the next 10 minutes as New Orleans raced to an early double digit lead. Okafor had 11 points in the first quarter, Ariza hit two 3s, and the Hornets led 31-17 after Smith's putback.
A largely reserve unit got Miami going, as Ilgauskas hit a pair of mid-range jumpers and James Jones added a 3 during a 7-0 run. Later in the second quarter, Wade's explosive driving floater capped a 10-2 run that made it 39-34. Then Jones' second 3 got it as close as 41-37 before Paul made an end-to-end driving scoop, started a fast break with a steal and set up Okafor's dunk to help New Orleans take a 50-41 lead into halftime.