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Sixers spoil Paul's return to Hornets' lineup

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Philadelphia's new starting frontcourt tandem used its best rebounding performance of the season to overshadow the return of New Orleans' star point guard.

Andre Iguodala scored 22 points, Samuel Dalembert grabbed 15 rebounds to lead Philadelphia's dominant effort on the boards, and the 76ers spoiled Chris Paul's return with an 89-78 victory over the Hornets on Wednesday night.

"When we came in and started grabbing some rebounds early on, they didn't know what to do," Dalembert said. "We were able to grab those rebounds and push them down the court and take advantage of that."

Joe Smith added 12 points and a season-high 12 rebounds, and Steven Hunter had 12 points and 10 rebounds as Philadelphia held a 58-40 advantage on the boards. The 76ers beat their previous rebounding high by five and moved to 5-3 since Hunter joined Dalembert in the starting lineup.

It's the team's best eight-game stretch of the season.

"It's a comfortable fit," Dalembert said. "I'm going to be there for him, and he's going to be there for me."

New Orleans was ineffective on offense in Paul's first game after a monthlong absence with a sprained right ankle. Devin Brown, relegated to the bench after Paul's return, had 17 points to lead the Hornets. Tyson Chandler, David West, Desmond Mason and Rasual Butler all scored 10 points, and Chandler also had 15 rebounds.

Paul had nine points and two assists in 29 minutes as the Hornets had a six-game home winning streak snapped and fell to 3-1 on their current five-game homestand.

"It's disappointing for me and the team," Paul said. "They won three in a row, and I come back and we get the life beat out of us."

Paul said the Hornets didn't have enough defensive intensity and let Philadelphia be the aggressor.

"We settled for a bunch of jump shots," Paul said. "We're just going to have to drive more."

The Hornets, who allowed the 76ers to grab a 19-point, first-half lead in a 102-96 loss in Philadelphia a week earlier, were down 20 points early in the second half before mounting another unsuccessful comeback.

Philadelphia built its advantage by outscoring New Orleans 43-19 in a stretch from early in the second quarter until midway through the third. The 76ers outscored New Orleans 21-6 to end the first half, and the advantage was 45-34 at halftime after Willie Green grabbed Iguodala's airballed jumper and put back the rebound.

Philadelphia then added a 16-7 run early in the second half, fueled by seven points from Iguodala, and led 67-47 after his jumper from the right side.

"We took care of the boards, and it turned into easy offense for us," Iguodala said.

Hunter missed a chance at an alley-oop dunk on Philadelphia's next possession, and the Hornets responded by scoring 10 of the next 12 points to get within 69-57. The 76ers didn't make a field goal in the final 4 1/2 minutes of the third quarter.

New Orleans got as close as eight on Hilton Armstrong's putback that made it 73-65 early in the fourth quarter, but Philadelphia bounced right back with a 12-2 run to put the game out of reach.

Besides the rebounding disparity, the 76ers also benefited from a 23 extra trips to the free throw line. The Sixers made 24 of 31 foul shots, while the Hornets converted only five of their eight free throws.

"I don't know why we are having these letdowns," West said. "This is a letdown. We can't look at a team's record. ... Right out the gate, they were able to outhustle us and they really set the tone early, and we were just playing catch-up the rest of the night."

Game notes
It was the second double-double of the season for Hunter, who was traded to New Orleans last season in a deal that was rescinded due to issues with Hunter's physical for the Hornets. ... The Hornets let their option for a third season in Oklahoma City lapse on Wednesday. ... Paul didn't get his first assist until the final minute of the first half, when he set up West for a foul line jumper. ... New Orleans committed a season-low five turnovers.