OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Playing their first game in a new home, the
New Orleans Hornets had to work out some butterflies. By the time
they settled down, it was too late to salvage a win.
"We wanted to impress the crowd so much. The city has done so
much for us and welcomed us right in, and we just wanted to give
them a good show and show them that we're going to play for them,"
New Orleans guard Chris Paul said. "I think guys just had a little
bit of jitters."
The Hornets, who rallied from a 26-point deficit in the first
half, had a chance to tie after getting the ball out of bounds with
7.8 seconds left, but DerMarr Johnson blocked J.R. Smith's
3-pointer from the left wing and Greg Buckner made a free throw to
secure the win.
"I think I hesitated too much instead of just shooting the
ball," Smith said. "Usually I'm a catch-and-shoot kind of guy,
and I think he froze me a little bit as opposed to me freezing
The Hornets, playing for the first time in Oklahoma City's Ford
Center, pulled within 87-85 on David West's right-handed layup in
the lane before Nene hit two free throws and Miller made a layup to
start a 7-0 run by the Nuggets. Miller also hit a free throw and
made a steal during the spurt.
A 3-pointer by Paul and two free throws by West with 31.8
seconds left brought the Hornets within 96-93, but the crowd of
14,575 -- or about 250 more than the Hornets averaged last season in
New Orleans -- had to settle for a loss in the team's Oklahoma City
debut. After being forced out of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina,
the Hornets will play 35 home games in Oklahoma City this season.
"It felt like home real quickly," Hornets forward P.J. Brown
said. "We didn't give the fans much to cheer about in the first
half and it was tough. It was ugly, to be honest. In the second
half, we brought our game to a higher level and the crowd came
right along with us. They just exploded. They were super."
The Nuggets (5-1) have won five straight since starting the
preseason with a 100-90 loss to the Hornets (1-4) in Denver.
Martin scored 15 points for Denver, Nene had 13, Carmelo Anthony
11 and Johnson 10.
Paul led the Hornets with 26 points and 10 rebounds, Speedy
Claxton scored 14 and Smith finished with 10.
Smith hit two 3-pointers and made a nifty behind-the back pass
to set up Paul's layup during an 18-6 run that cut the deficit to
61-50. The crowd came to its feet as Denver called a timeout with
5:51 left in the third quarter.
Claxton resumed the rally in the fourth quarter for the Hornets.
He hit two free throws to start a 7-0 run, won a jumpball against
5-foot-5 Earl Boykins to set up Kirk Snyder's two-handed jam, then
drilled a jumper from the left side to bring the Hornets within
But it wasn't enough for the Hornets to overcome their early
struggles in their new home. The Hornets missed 19 of their first
25 shots and were 1-for-8 from 3-point range to fall behind 23-17
after the first quarter.
Johnson started Denver's 20-3 run in the second quarter with a
3-pointer from the left corner that bounced high off the rim before
falling through the net. Kenyon Martin jammed home Eduardo Najera's
miss on the Nuggets' next possession and Boykins scored the last of
10 straight Denver points on a fastbreak layup that made it 51-25.
Brown ended the Denver run with a one-handed jam, but the
Hornets still trailed 55-32 at halftime after shooting a miserable
23 percent and allowing Denver to make 53 percent of its shots.
Brown said the Hornets were failing to communicate and give
enough effort on defense, but fixed it after halftime.
"It was really nothing about Xs and Os. They were literally
taking the ball out of bounds, one pass up, second pass layup.
That's not going to do it for us," Brown said. "We finally
started playing and we were down in that hole and we gave a glimpse
to our fans that this could be a pretty good team if we just play
for 48 minutes like that."
The Hornets unveiled a new basketball floor, with the words
"Oklahoma" and "City" on top and bottom of the team's logo at
center court. On each baseline, Oklahoma City was spelled out in
teal capital letters. Message boards around the upper deck flashed
the names of either city at different times, or some combination of