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Paul, Hornets rebound from off-game with decisive divisional win

Dec 27, 2008 - 5:11 AM NEW ORLEANS (Ticker) -- Coming off arguably their weakest showing of the season on Christmas Day, the New Orleans Hornets recovered in strong fashion on Friday night.

Chris Paul put up another stellar showing with 26 points and 10 assists as the Hornets edged the Houston Rockets, 88-79, in a crucial Southwest Division clash.

"They are a good basketball team and have been playing good," Hornets forward David West said. "We knew we had our hands full with Yao and McGrady. We came out with good effort on the defensive end. We were able to make some key plays down the stretch to win."

New Orleans managed just 68 points in Thursday's blowout loss to the Orlando Magic, looking uncharacteristically lifeless for the duration. But Friday was a different story, as the Hornets got it done on the strength of a stifling defensive effort that limited the Rockets to just 38 percent shooting (26-of-68).

"(Thursday's loss) was just embarrassing," Paul said. "I don't know if it was a wake-up call, (but) we just knew that we needed to come back and bring a better effort. This has been kind of a roller coaster thing for us, and it needs to be a constant."

That said, Houston's staunch defense was nearly equal to the task. Neither team led by more than seven until the final seconds - and no lead was ever safe. Late in the fourth quarter, Tracy McGrady pulled the Rockets to within three with a pair of free throws with about two minutes remaining.

But the Hornets worked the clock and began to finish the Rockets off with a pair of clutch jumpers.

"I think we left (our offense) back in Houston," McGrady said. "We had some great looks, even down the stretch. The offense just wasn't there for us. Defensively, I thought we were pretty solid. We just couldn't make any shots."

Paul found fellow All-Star David West for a short jumper to push the lead to five. One possession later, the All-NBA point guard took it himself, burying a 20-footer to make it an 83-76 ballgame with less than a minute left.

"We were right there. It was a grind-out game. It was there for us," Rockets forward Shane Battier said. "We just didn't make enough plays. They got some big shots and key offensive boards. If you want to win this tough game you either have to make those plays or eliminate them."

McGrady knocked down three foul shots on the other end, but it was too late for the Rockets, who have now dropped two straight.

West finished with 23 points for the Hornets, while Tyson Chandler added 14 and 12 boards.

"We came out with a lot of energy tonight," Scott said. "It still boggles my mind that we can come out like we did yesterday turn right back around and play another very good basketball team and come out with that type of energy."

Yao Ming led Houston with 19 points and 12 boards, while McGrady - who has been battling a sore knee that has sidelined him off and on this season - was held to 11 on 2-of-11 shooting.

"I'm not 100 percent," McGrady said. "I'm gutting it out, playing through this knee surgery. I'm doing what I can. Some nights I feel like I can't do anything at all. Tonight I felt pretty good."

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