NEW ORLEANS -- With nine NBA seasons under his belt, reserve shooting guard Roger Mason is the elder statesman of the youthful New Orleans Hornets, who have 11 players with two years or less of pro experience.
Even though Mason had played just five minutes in the previous two games -- both of them victories -- the veteran was ready Wednesday night when Hornets coach Monty Williams called his number, and he exploded for 15 of his season-high 17 points in the fourth quarter to power the Hornets to an 88-79 victory over the Houston Rockets at the New Orleans Arena.
Mason scored 13 points in a decisive 22-2 fourth-quarter run that turned a 69-59 fourth-quarter deficit into an 81-71 lead with 4:19 left. Actually, two more of Mason's long-range jumpers could have been 3-pointers except for the fact that he had his toe touching the line.
"Actually, Coach said to me at the timeout -- he told me to get behind the line after I shot two of those shots with my foot on the line," Mason said, smiling. "I just tried to get my spacing out there, and my teammates really found me. Without them getting me the ball, none of those shots would have gone in."
Williams was in a bit of trick bag when he called on Mason late in the third quarter. Shooting guard Eric Gordon, still shaking off the rust of missing two months with a knee injury, had missed 10 of 11 shots, and Ryan Anderson, normally automatic from 3-point range, was held scoreless for the first time since last January.
After the game, Williams pointed to Mason as a prime example of the NBA adage: Be ready, because you never know when you're number is going to be called.
"He's one of those guys that you can use as an example to our young guys about preparation, being a pro, being ready," Williams said. "He didn't play against San Antonio (a 95-88 victory on Monday night). He didn't hang his head. He came back the next day and got his shots in (in practice)."
In winning their third consecutive game, the Hornets (10-25) forced the league's No. 1 scoring offense into 23 turnovers and outscored the Rockets 29-10 in the fourth quarter. They also outrebounded the Rockets 46-39, including 16 offensive rebounds.
Forward Jason Smith, who scored 17 points, had six offensive rebounds in his total of 10 boards, displaying the kind of energy that has been the Hornets' hallmark all season despite their losing record. Houston (21-15), which entered the game averaging a league-high 106.2 points per game, was held under 80 for the first time this season.
"Any time a team gets that many offensive rebounds, it's going to be hard to run," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. "It's the turnovers and not keeping them off the glass that hurt us."
Hornets center Robin Lopez said Smith's defense and aggressive work on the boards gave the Hornets all the energy they needed.
"Those rebounds are second-chance, extra possessions," Lopez said. "I can't stress enough how contagious and big of an effect Jason had on the game with his energy and hustle. I think it won us the game."
The Hornets missed their first eight 3-point attempts of the game, but Mason found the range and began torching the Rockets from the perimeter.
James Harden scored 25 points for the Rockets -- his 14th consecutive game in which he has scored at least 25 points. That broke the franchise record of 13 consecutive games held by Moses Malone. But Harden scored only three points in the fourth quarter.
"We didn't move the ball," Harden said. "It's simple. They did a good job of offensive rebounding, and that slowed us up."
The Rockets used a 10-0 spurt early in the third quarter to take a 46-38 lead and outscored the Hornets 33-25 in the period to lead 69-59. The Hornets had been 1-19 in 20 previous games in which they trailed entering the fourth quarter.
But, Mason proved himself the ultimate pro.
"You've got to stay patient, no matter what," Mason said. "I was ready when Coach called my name, and I wanted to bring energy and play tough defense and knock down some shots. You have to always be ready in this business. You never know what's going to happen."
NOTES: James Harden's 14-game streak of 25-plus points has been impressive to Rockets coach Kevin McHale. "He does it in different ways," McHale said. "There are nights he'll make 3s; there are nights he gets to the line 18 times; there are nights he gets layups. He keeps the pressure on the defense. He's got the unique ability to make shots and put pressure on the defense. He can attack and score against bigs, which a lot of guards can't do. A lot of guards get in there and the bigs really intimidate them. He can really finish. He's a special, special talent." ... Even though Eric Gordon was 2-of-12 from the field and struggled offensively, the Hornets are 3-1 since he has returned from a right knee injury... The Hornets snapped the Rockets' five-game winning streak. ... Greivis Vasquez recorded his second consecutive double-double with 17 points and 11 assists.