NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The New Orleans Hornets built a lead that was too big to blow in the final seconds this time. Emeka Okafor and Chris Paul made sure of that.
Okafor had 21 points and 10 rebounds, Paul added 12 points and 14 assists, and the Hornets beat New Jersey 105-91 on Wednesday night to snap a demoralizing two-game skid in which leads at Detroit and Indiana vanished in the final seconds.
“I felt like this was a game we had to get, not just for morale as a team, but I just felt like we did enough to win those other games and it just didn’t go our way,” Hornets coach Monty Williams said.
Last Sunday, the Hornets lost at Detroit after the Pistons hit a tying 3 with just over 20 seconds left and went on to a narrow victory in overtime. The next night in Indianapolis, David West hit a go-ahead shot with 3.9 seconds left, only to have Mike Dunleavy tip-in the winner for the Pacers at the final horn.
“To lose the way that we did the two previous games, you can’t look back on those games, you can’t get them back. The key for us is that in order to get better, we have to learn from those games,” Williams said. “I believe it’s going to help us in the future.”
With Okafor forcing New Jersey to guard him and Paul distributing the ball, the Hornets wound up with a lot of players getting good looks at the basket as they shot 53.9 percent (41 of 76) and made eight of 16 3-point attempts.
“They came out like a desperate basketball team that had lost a couple of tough ones on the road,” Nets coach Avery Johnson said. “They outhustled us. They were playing another game tonight than what we were. … Just tip your hat to them. This was not one of our better nights.”
David West and Marcus Thornton each scored 18 points and Marco Belinelli added 14 for the Hornets, who led by as much as 22 points, at 100-78 on Okafor’s running hook with six minutes left in the fourth quarter.
New Orleans also outrebounded New Jersey 48-30, and Williams said Okafor had “a lot to do with our rebound margin.”
“Sometimes he doesn’t block a shot, but he jumps high enough to distract it,” Williams said. “On most nights, Emeka is an X-factor for us.”
Devin Harris had 21 points and eight assists for New Jersey, which led briefly in the first half but by no more than a point. Harris scored on an array of jump shots and slashing drives that wrong-footed Hornets defenders on several occasions. He just didn’t have enough help.
Brook Lopez had 16 points, while Sasha Vujacic added 12 and Derrick Favors 10 for the Nets, who shot 45.7 percent (37 of 81).
The Hornets led 57-70 after West hit a turnaround 3-pointer at the horn to close out a closely contested first half.
New Jersey was as close as 59-55 after Harris opened the third quarter with a pull-up jumper and a 3.
Soon after, however, Paul fed Trevor Ariza for a short, driving floater that ignited a 17-4 Hornets run. West hit a pair of jumpers during the surge, Paul added a short floater and Belinelli hit a jumper and a 3.
“They jumped on top of us and got us back on our heels,” Nets forward Kris Humphries said. “We were able to respond a little bit, but then ultimately they just kept at us and we just folded up.”
Thornton, who hit four of five 3-point attempts, made one of them at the end of the third quarter, putting New Orleans up 83-63.
The Nets, who came in having won two straight and three of four, dropped to 3-13 on the road, while the Hornets improved to 12-3 at home, where they’ll play their next game on Sunday against Atlanta.
“We felt like we let two go on the road, but we can’t worry about that,” Paul said. “We have to worry about the next one. We’ve got a few days to get ready for the Hawks. It’s good to be home.”
NOTES: Gov. Bobby Jindal and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu attended the game together, speaking to reporters at halftime in an effort to drum up more local support for the Hornets. The league recently took over the club intends to sell it, preferably to a buyer who would continue to operate the club in New Orleans. Jindal said the Hornets need to average a little more than 15,000 for the next nine games to void an early escape clause in the club’s lease at the state-owned arena. The announced attendance was 15,423. … Hornets G Willie Green missed his second straight game as he attends to family matters in Detroit stemming from the recent death of his sister and cousin, who were killed in a car wreck.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)