Paul's return no match for Hamilton, Pistons in OT

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- The Detroit Pistons know they can always
rely on their defense when they find themselves in close games.

"We told ourselves to turn it up and get a couple of stops to
take over the game," Rasheed Wallace said.

That's what the Pistons did in the fourth quarter Tuesday night,
breaking open a tight game with a 12-0 run en route to a 96-86 win
over the New Orleans Hornets.

Richard Hamilton scored 30 points, including 20 in the second
half, and Chauncey Billups added 18 points for the Pistons, who
improved their NBA-best record to 27-5 heading into a game Thursday
at San Antonio -- the team that beat Detroit in last season's NBA

"After the second half started, we locked down and were a lot
better defensively," Detroit coach Flip Saunders said. "Even
though we got down, we didn't lose our aggressiveness. But we came
down and ... scored three times on them. We just kept controlling

The Hornets lost their second straight game despite the
unexpected return of rookie point guard Chris Paul, who started
despite a torn ligament in his right hand.

The Hornets led 53-48 after a basket by Desmond Mason with 9:48
left in the third quarter, but Detroit scored the next nine points
to take the lead for good.

Detroit scored the final eight points of the quarter, including
consecutive 3-pointers by Tayshaun Prince and Carlos Arroyo, to go
ahead 74-64.

New Orleans closed within 80-79 with 6:20 left, but the 12-0
run, capped by 3-pointers by Billups and Wallace, extended the
Pistons' margin to 13 points by the 3:40 mark. The Hornets came no
closer than 11 points the rest of the way.

"That's just a very good basketball team," Hornets coach Byron
Scott said of the Pistons. "They come with their hard hats on
every night. They're not going to make a lot of mistakes."

Wallace knew the game was over after his final 3-pointer.

"Oh, I just said, 'Wrap it up," he said. "You know, just
start the bus."

Hamilton, the Pistons' leading scorer, has scored 30 or more
points five times this season. Before Tuesday, he hadn't done so
since Dec. 14 against Sacramento.

Paul tore the ligament on the inside of his right thumb Friday
during a win over Portland and missed the Hornets' next game, a
101-93 loss at Atlanta on Saturday. The team expected him to miss
two weeks.

But Paul participated in the Hornets' shootaround at the Ford
Center on Tuesday morning and Scott made the decision to play Paul
afterward. Scott said doctors told him that Paul couldn't damage
the thumb any further by playing.

"He's just a very competitive young man who wants to play,"
Scott said before the game.

The Hornets' first-round draft pick, Paul entered the game
averaging 16.3 points, 7.4 assists and 2.2 steals per game, all
tops among NBA rookies, and 5.8 rebounds. He had 13 points and five
assists in 34 minutes against Detroit.

"I kind of marvel at the young man," Scott said.

David West scored 14 of his 20 points in the first half as the
Hornets took a 45-42 halftime lead.

The lead swapped hands nine times in the first half and neither
team led by more than six points, that when the Hornets went up
34-28 on consecutive dunks by Chris Andersen early in the second

Speedy Claxton added 18 points for the Hornets.

Game notes
The crowd of 19,260 at the Ford Center gave the Hornets
their ninth sellout in 17 home games, which includes one game
played in Baton Rouge, La. It was the fifth time this season the
Hornets have drawn a standing room only crowd in Oklahoma City. ...
Arroyo was ejected with 7:43 left after bumping an official while
protesting a foul call. Arroyo had picked up his sixth personal
foul moments earlier while trying to block a shot by Claxton ....
The Hornets failed in their bid to record their sixth win of the
season over a division leader. New Orleans has beaten Miami, San
Antonio, Minnesota, Philadelphia and Phoenix this season.