OKLAHOMA CITY – Steve Francis scored 24 points to help the Orlando Magic beat New Orleans 88-83 on Wednesday night for the Hornets’ first loss in Oklahoma City.

After DeShawn Stevenson’s layup gave the Magic an 80-69 lead, the Hornets came charging back, going on a 10-2 run.

Speedy Claxton, who finished with 24 points, hit back-to-back baskets and his free throw with 1:23 left pulled New Orleans within three, 82-79.

Francis put back Jameer Nelson’s miss on Orlando’s next possession to put the Magic back up by five. David West scored to close the gap back to 84-81, but New Orleans couldn’t get a stop on the other end.

Stevenson came down with a Francis miss before getting fouled with 8.5 seconds left. He hit both free throws to put Orlando up 86-81. After Claxton hit a jumper in the lane with four seconds left, Francis hit two free throws to seal the win.

New Orleans had won its season opener against Sacramento 93-67 in Oklahoma City on Nov. 1.

It was the highest scoring output of the season for Orlando, which entered the game averaging a league-low 79.5 points.

The crowd of 18,508 – 655 fans short of a second straight sellout – had little to cheer about as the Hornets fell behind early by 11 points. Rasual Butler brought the fans to their feet with a two-handed, fast-break jam off a pass from Claxton.

They rose again when Chris Paul gave the Hornets a 40-39 lead with his layup late in the second quarter. The Magic led 41-40 at halftime after Dwight Howard slammed home a Francis miss with two hands.

Howard had 16 points and 13 rebounds for Orlando, and Stevenson finished with 13 points.

Desmond Mason and West added 12 points each for New Orleans, and Chris Paul had 10.

Notes: NBA commissioner David Stern attended the game and praised Oklahoma City for its response to the Hornets’ move. He stayed neutral on the game’s outcome. “I’m a basketball fan,” he said. … Howard and New Orleans guard J.R. Smith were co-MVPs of the 2004 McDonald’s All-American game, which also was played in Oklahoma City’s Ford Center. Smith scored 25 and Howard scored 19 as their East team beat the West 126-96. … A snippet of the Oklahoma State fight song was played after Mason, a former OSU star, hit a free throw in the first half and a 3-pointer in the second half.

AP-ES-11-09-05 2315EST


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