Francis scored 24 points, including seven in the final 2:01, to help Orlando beat New Orleans 88-83 on Wednesday night for the Hornets’ first loss in Oklahoma City.
“He shot a lot of shots toward the end of game. He made a couple of them,” said Hornets rookie Chris Paul. “If you shoot that much, hopefully one of them will go in.”
After DeShawn Stevenson’s layup gave the Magic an 79-69 lead, the Hornets came charging back, going on a 10-3 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 with 49.9 seconds left, but New Orleans couldn’t get a stop on the other end.
Stevenson came down with the second of two Francis misses 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.
“We still had our chances to win this game, to try to win an ugly game, but we just didn’t make enough plays down the stretch to get it,” Hornets forward P.J. Brown said.
Orlando outrebounded New Orleans 43-33.
“I thought a few bounced their way—crazy bounces and things like that— but you’ve got to block out,” Brown said. “We’re not a big team anyway, so we’ve got to stick to the fundamentals. When that ball goes up, you’ve got to find a body.”
Magic coach Brian Hill was pleased with the way his team bounced back after picking up its first win Tuesday night in Houston. Orlando had its highest scoring output of the season after entering the game averaging a league-low 79.5 points.
“This was a character game for us,” Hill said. “This showed exactly what type of character these guys have.”
New Orleans won its season opener against Sacramento 93-67 in Oklahoma City on Nov. 1 in front of a sellout crowd.
The crowd for the second game fell 655 fans short of a second straight sellout, and the 18,508 fans 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, who finished with 16 points and 13 rebounds, said he was impressed by the crowd and wanted to come back to the Ford Center soon.
“They’ve really got a great fan base here,” Howard said. “When we go home, we see a packed house every once in a while, but I watch them play on TV and it’s a packed house here.”
Desmond Mason and West added 12 points each for New Orleans, and Paul had 10.
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.