OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – They’re still officially the team from New Orleans, but judging by the roaring capacity crowd and the startling success of their Oklahoma City debut Tuesday, the Hornets should happy to wear those “OKC” patches for awhile.

J.R. Smith scored 19 points and had two electrifying dunks as New Orleans beat the Sacramento Kings 93-67 on the NBA’s opening night, which also marked the first of 35 home games in Oklahoma City.

The celebration began with a street party outside the Ford Center, then got even more lively inside the sold-out arena as the Hornets, 18-64 last season, beat a Kings team expected to be a contender.

P.J. Brown scored eight points during a 16-2 run midway through the second quarter that gave the Hornets a 38-27 lead. Smith’s two-handed fast-break dunk was the highlight of the run for New Orleans, which wore white jerseys with a hexagonal “OKC” patch on the right shoulder.

Brown finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds, Speedy Claxton added 17 and Chris Paul, the team’s No. 1 pick in this year’s draft, added 13.

Peja Stojakovic scored 18 and Shareef Abdur-Rahim added 14 for the Kings, who shot only 31.3 percent.

New Orleans, which was the lowest scoring team in the league last season, built their lead to 20 points in the second quarter as Smith again energized the crowd. He had seven points during a 12-0 run that put the Hornets up 58-38.

The Hornets were searching for a place to play this season after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. The other six home games will be played in Baton Rouge, La.

A street party before the game offered fans the chance to take part in interactive games, get their face painted in Hornets colors and listen to live bands. New Orleans then got a standing ovation when players ran onto the court for pre-game warmups to the announcement “Here come your Hornets!”

Desmond Mason, a former Oklahoma State star, and Paul got the loudest ovations during introductions, and fans didn’t sit down until Brown scored inside for the Hornets’ first basket.

Another ovation came after Claxton hit a 3-pointer and the Hornets led 22-21 after the first quarter. More came when Hornets vice president Willis Reed and Bill Walton, who signed autographs before the game, were introduced.

The crowd chanted “de-fense” and booed when officials called fouls against the team the public address announcer called the “hometown Hornets.”

Before the game, Hornets owner George Shinn admitted he was a bit leery when NBA commissioner recommended Oklahoma City for a temporary home. He has since changed his mind.

“When we go back to New Orleans, this city will get a franchise, I’m convinced,” Shinn said. “Whether the NBA is smart enough to come here or the NHL or the NFL or baseball, somebody will come here. This market is going to be too good for them to pass up.”

Notes: Kings first-round draft pick Francisco Garcia checked into the game with 9:19 left, grabbed a rebound, then traveled. He converted a three-point play with 3:39 left and finished with five points. … Sacramento’s lowest point total last season came in a 103-73 loss to San Antonio on Jan. 23 … All 12 Hornets played, and all but Chris Andersen scored.

AP-ES-11-01-05 2302EST


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