NEW ORLEANS (AP) – David West scored 20 points and Chris Paul tied a career high with 16 assists as the New Orleans Hornets beat the Houston Rockets 96-90 on Sunday night for their third victory in three games.

Peja Stojakovic overcame cold shooting in his first two games and hit five 3-pointers, finishing with 16 points as the Hornets brought the fans in a sellout crowd of 18,202 to their feet in the team’s first home opener in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina.

The victory capped a good day for the rebuilding city’s sports fans, who earlier enjoyed the Saints’ triumph at Tampa Bay.

Pro sports have been good to the long-suffering fans here so far this fall, with both the Saints and Hornets winning home openers before exuberant sellout crowds and surging to the top of the standings early in their respective seasons.

Houston appeared ready to put a damper on the night when Luther Head’s short jumper gave the Rockets a 77-76 lead with about nine minutes to go. But the Hornets surged ahead with a 14-3 run that began with Tyson Chandler’s rebound and dunk.

Chandler had another putback during the run while reserve Bobby Jackson, who had 12 points, added a three-point play on a fast-break layup after he had stolen the ball from Tracy McGrady.

Shane Battier led Houston with 18 points, while Yao Ming, limited by early foul trouble, finished with 17. McGrady scored 14 but was only 5-of-15 from the field as Houston shot only 40.5 percent, including 9-of-27 from 3-point range.

Rafer Alston had 13 points for Houston and Head finished with 10.

Paul scored 12 points and directed the hard-running Hornets to a 19-0 advantage on fast-break points. Rasual Butler scored 11 for New Orleans, hitting all three 3-pointers he took.

Yao, who averaged 29 points through the first two games, had three fouls in the first five minutes of the game and spent the rest of the half on the bench.

New Orleans took advantage, turning an early five-point deficit into a lead as large as 11. With Paul pushing the ball up the floor, the Hornets finished the first half with a 16-0 advantage in fast-break points.

Paul had 10 points and 10 assists in the first half alone, and the Hornets shot 51 percent through the opening two periods for a 48-42 lead at halftime.

Notes: Although this was technically the Hornets’ first home-opener in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina, it was their fourth game in the city since the storm as they returned for three games last March. NBA commissioner David Stern attended the game and said the Hornets’ full-time return is certain for at least the next couple years as the league monitors the city’s rebuilding. … The Hornets are playing in four home openers to begin the season. They were the guests for the first two in Boston and Indiana. Next they have their second home opener in their second home, Oklahoma City, on Tuesday. … Stojakovic, New Orleans’ highest-profile free agent acquisition in the offseason, had been 2-of-9 on 3-pointers and 7-of-25 overall from the field in his first two games.

AP-ES-11-05-06 2158EST


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