INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—The New Orleans Hornets got off to a good start in facing perhaps their toughest challenge of the season.
The Hornets beat the Indiana Pacers 114-106 on Tuesday to open a six-game road trip that could determine if they earn the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
David West had 35 points and 16 rebounds, and Chris Paul had 31 points and 14 assists as the Hornets won their fourth straight to maintain the best record (48-21) in the West. Paul said every game will count in the final weeks with so many teams jockeying for home-court advantage in the conference playoffs.
“It’s going to change maybe four or five times before the season’s over, unless we go undefeated,” he said.
The Hornets came in focused because coach Byron Scott put the road trip’s importance into perspective.
“Coach says you can’t win them all if you don’t win the first one,” Paul said.
The Hornets won this one with defense. The Pacers had cut a 14-point second-half deficit to 100-98 in the fourth quarter, but they made just two of seven shots in the final 4:05.
“When they cut it to two, we just knew we had to buckle down and get ourselves back to making positive plays,” West said.
Scott said the Hornets have consistently played well in the fourth quarter this season.
“Fourth quarter’s been a big-time trend,” he said. “We’ve been doing a great job on the defensive end, then on the offensive end, of being able to convert, make shots, make free throws, make the right decisions. Obviously that helps when you’ve got a guy like Chris Paul running the show.”
It was the Pacers’ first game since CEO Donnie Walsh announced he was leaving the team at the end of the season.
Danny Granger led Indiana with 26 points and nine rebounds against his hometown team. The Pacers had been on a four-game winning streak, but the loss gave the Pacers back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1987-88 and 1988-89.
The Pacers lost amid reports that Walsh would take over the New York Knicks. A Pacers spokesman said Tuesday that Walsh hasn’t made a decision on his future and hasn’t agreed to anything with any team.
The Pacers had won four straight while fighting to stay in playoff contention. They remained 1 1/2 games behind Atlanta for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference.
“This one hurts, but it’s over with and we’ve got to put it behind us,” said Pacers forward Shawne Williams, who scored 17 points off the bench. “We were there. We just didn’t pull it off. We have to get better from this.”
The Hornets led 59-56 at halftime, then went on a 13-2 run at the start of the third quarter to take a 72-58 lead. The Pacers ended the period on a 9-2 run that included two 3-pointers by Granger and another by Williams to cut New Orleans’ lead to 86-79 at the end of the quarter.
With Paul on the bench to start the fourth quarter, the Pacers chopped into New Orleans’ lead. A three-point play by Williams made it 88-82, and a pair of free throws by Granger two minutes later made it 90-86 before Paul returned.
Tyson Chandler’s dunk off a pass from Paul extended the Hornets’ lead to 98-89, but the Pacers quickly rallied. A 3-pointer by Granger, a short jumper by David Harrison and a baby hook in the lane from Mike Dunleavy trimmed New Orleans’ lead to 100-98 and forced the Hornets to call timeout with five minutes left.
New Orleans outscored Indiana 14-8 the rest of the way.
“We kept knocking at the door, and they answered every single time,” Granger said.
West scored 12 points in the fourth quarter.
“It’s all about playing well, performing well, doing whatever we’ve got to do to win basketball games,” West said. “I know the guys are coming to me, especially down the stretch, and I’ve got to be ready to step up and play.”
Paul said West was the difference in the game.
“We did an outstanding job of moving the ball, but D-West is the one that really got us going,” Paul said. “We got out in transition. We let them back in it in the third quarter, but we did enough to hold them off.”
Indiana F Jermaine O’Neal has missed 31 straight games with a left knee injury, but he has been practicing and said he expects to be back soon. Indiana coach Jim O’Brien says it’s a matter of O’Neal deciding his cardiovascular conditioning is good enough to play. … Former Purdue basketball coach Gene Keady attended the game.