NEW ORLEANS (AP)—The term “losing streak” suddenly applies to the Houston Rockets, thanks in large part to a player they got rid of at the trading deadline.
Bonzi Wells helped New Orleans hand the Rockets their second straight loss after a 22-game winning streak, scoring 20 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter in the Hornets’ 90-69 victory Wednesday night.
“I’ve been on five different teams so it doesn’t really matter,” Wells said after helping New Orleans (46-21) pull even with the Los Angeles Lakers atop the Western Conference. “We’re really fighting for something here and if you can’t get motivated every night you shouldn’t be in this league.”
David West, returning from a right ankle sprain that sidelined him for two games, had 23 points and 11 rebounds as New Orleans also pulled a half-game ahead of the Rockets for the Southwest Division lead.
Chris Paul had 21 points and 10 assists for the Hornets, who extended their home winning streak to eight while ending the Rockets 12-game winning streak on the road.
Tracy McGrady, who scored only eight points in a 94-74 loss to Boston a night earlier, scored 15 against New Orleans, still well below his nearly 22-point-per-game average.
“We’ve got to make it easier on him,” Houston coach Rick Adelman said. “They are doubling him so hard. They’re coming at him all the time. If he gives it up, we have to be able to finish it.”
But Houston, which shot 41 percent against Boston, was even worse in New Orleans, finishing at 34 percent in setting a season low for points while tying a season low with only 28 field goals.
“We’ve got to get ourselves together, but it is getting harder every game,” McGrady said.
Battier noted that Houston’s sudden slide may have something to do with the level of competition.
“We played the best team in the league, Boston, at home, then we played the team that has been leading the conference for the majority of the year,” Battier said. “We just did not have enough to get over the top the last two games.”
Tyson Chandler grabbed 15 rebounds for the Hornets, who were down by 14 in the second quarter before cutting Houston’s lead to 44-39 at halftime.
After New Orleans took a 50-47 lead in the third quarter, Houston countered with an 8-0 run, and Mutombo’s dunk put the Rockets up 55-50. The Hornets suddenly couldn’t make a basket, getting only one free throw from West during a six-minute span.
New Orleans did not let up on defense, however, and put together an 8-2 run during the last 2:30 of the third quarter to tie it at 59 heading into the fourth quarter.
“We just knew it was a matter of time,” Hornets coach Byron Scott said. “The thing I am proud of is that the guys just kept focus on the defensive end. We got more aggressive. We got tougher. We started to get loose balls, deflections, steals, everything … and I think it kind of ignited us on the other end.”
Houston turned the ball over 19 times, leading to 22 Hornets points.
Wells, meanwhile, opened the fourth quarter by scoring nine points on a fast-break dunk as he was fouled, a driving layup and a pair of jumpers during a 13-2 run that gave New Orleans a 72-61 lead.
He went on to hit six free throws during the quarter and added a 3-pointer while turning the game into a blowout.
“I had the luxury of knowing those guys a little bit, practicing with them the last couple years,” Wells said of the Rockets. “We played one-on-one so much I kind of knew the way those guys were going to guard me. … The coaching staff did an excellent job putting me in position. I’m just happy I finished and did my thing today. It was just a team victory. If it wasn’t for the rest of the guys getting me in my spots I wouldn’t have been able to do what I did today and I’m just happy we got a victory.”
Houston shot 10-of-37 (27 percent) in the second half, when they scored only 25 points, tying a franchise low for points in a second half. … Paul had four steals. He also was called for a technical foul at the end of the first half for arguing with referees. … Alston was called for a technical foul in the fourth quarter while exchanging words with Paul. … Attendance was 17,956, the Hornets’ seventh sellout in their last 12 home games.