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Armstrong's free throw gives Hornets win

Nov 16, 2006 - 3:26 AM AUBURN HILLS, Michigan (Ticker) -- No David West or Tyson Chandler. No problem for the New Orleans Hornets.

Hilton Armstrong scored the first 17 points of his career, including the go-ahead free throw with three seconds left, as the Hornets posted a 100-99 victory over the struggling Detroit Pistons.

Chris Paul had 20 points and 13 assists for the Hornets, who played without Chandler (concussion) and West (forearm). Armstrong and Brandon Bass, who had 12 points and seven rebounds, replaced the duo in the starting lineup. Rookie Cedric Simmons also scored six points in 18 minutes off the bench.

"I told them before the game that they are getting an opportunity," Hornets coach Byron Scott said. "It's up to them to take advantage of it, and they did a good job. They realize that they can play in this league. We had two main guys hurt but our three young guys stepped up.

"I didn't expect 17 points from Hilton. I don't think he thought about scoring like that either. That's probably why he was able to do it. He got some nice feeds from CP (Paul) for some easy baskets and that helped give him some early confidence."

In his personal battle with Paul, Chauncey Billups was magnificent with 29 points and nine assists for the Pistons, who fought back from a 16-point second-quarter deficit.

"Chris is good. I love him," Billups said. "He's my favorite young point guard in the league right now. Either he is going to shoot the ball or make the play for the assist. He is a tough cover because they run pick-and-rolls every time. He is really good."

Behind the play of Armstrong and Paul, the Hornets built a 60-49 halftime lead. Armstrong, a 2006 first-round pick who had played in just one game this season, had 14 points and six rebounds. Paul had 10 points and seven assists in a first half in which the Hornets did not commit a turnover.

"We were lifeless to start with. You give up 60 points in the first half and you never get a chance to get into any kind of rhythm," Detroit coach Flip Saunders said. "I told them it was embarrassing. I've never seen us play that lifeless, especially coming off a disappointing game (111-79 loss to Golden State)."

But Richard Hamilton and Billups led a third-quarter surge for the Pistons.

Hamilton scored 13 points and Billups had six and three assists to help the Pistons tie the game at 76-76. But Peja Stojakovic knocked down a 3-pointer and Paul drilled a jumper as the Hornets took an 81-76 lead into the fourth.

Billups, who scored 14 points in the final period, hit consecutive 3-pointers for an 89-86 lead with seven minutes remaining. He hit a jumper in the lane with two minutes left, then sank two free throws with 55 seconds to snap a 97-97 tie.

However, Paul drove the lane, got fouled and made two free throws to tie it 17 seconds later.

On Detroit's next possession, the Hornets forced the ball out of Billups' hands and Rasheed Wallace missed a 3-pointer with 23 seconds left.

Paul again drove the lane and dished to Armstrong, who was fouled going up for a dunk.

"I felt Rasheed Wallace with me in the lane, so I knew Hilton had to be open somewhere," Paul said. "He was aggressive. That's what you have to do."

"Paul's got that ball in his hands so much," Saunders said. "You try to get it out of his hands and he makes great decisions. He's a tough guy to defend. That's why they've gotten off pretty good this year - because he's playing at an extremely high level."

Armstrong made the first shot, missed the second, but hustled in and tapped the ball out to Paul.

"Before I went to the line I tied my shoe," Armstrong said. "I didn't really have to, but it gave me a second to calm down and relax. I was pretty excited. I knew the first one was going in. As soon as I let go of the second one I knew it was going to hit the rim but I didn't know which way it was going. I didn't want to grab the ball and get a foul so I just tipped it.

"I felt real good tonight. Coach told me to just play hard, play smart and don't try to do too much. Hopefully, I can build on this but I can't get too happy. It's just one game. I got some easy baskets. Chris put me in the right position, so I had to take the shot.

Stojakovic finished with 14 points and Bass had 12 for the Hornets, who held a 44-35 edge on the boards and committed just six turnovers.

Hamilton, who missed the last two games with an hyperextended right elbow, finished with 23 points.

"I don't think we came out with any energy, like in the Golden State game," Billups said. "It was a tale of two different halves. I thought we played a lot more aggressive in the second half. If we would have played that way in the first half, we'd have probably went away with an easy win."

The Pistons (3-5) lost for the fourth time in five games. They did not lose their fifth game last season until January 7 (27-5).

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