NEW ORLEANS -- The Hornets had watched the New Orleans Saints' triumphant return to this rebuilding city and were determined to experience the same type of euphoria in their home opener.
"You don't want to come out here with all the press and all these people and send them home disappointed," Hornets forward David West said. "We wanted to make sure we sent them home happy."
West played a leading role in doing just that Sunday night, scoring 22 points while Chris Paul tied a career high with 16 assists as the Hornets beat the Houston Rockets 96-90 for their third victory in three games.
Peja Stojakovic overcame cold shooting in his first two games and hit five 3-pointers, finishing with 16 points as the Hornets brought the fans in a sellout crowd of 18,202 to their feet as the final seconds ticket away.
Like the Saints, the Hornets also won their first two games of the season on the road to set the stage for their first home opener in New Orleans since they were displaced to Oklahoma City by Hurricane Katrina before the start of last season. Still based in Oklahoma, the Hornets will play five more games in New Orleans this season before their planned full-time return in 2007-08.
"As well as the Saints have been doing, we felt like we had to do our part," said Paul, who spoke by phone to Saints rookie Reggie Bush after the Saints' victory in Tampa Bay started what turned out to be a good day for local sports fans.
Pro sports have been good to the long-suffering fans here so far this fall, with both the Saints and Hornets winning home openers before exuberant sellout crowds and surging to the top of the standings early in their respective seasons.
"I don't see why it can't be Hornets and Saints fever at the same time," Paul said. "We root for them. They root for us."
Houston appeared ready to put a damper on the night when Luther Head's short jumper gave the Rockets a 77-76 lead with about nine minutes to go. But the Hornets surged ahead with a 14-3 run that began with Tyson Chandler's rebound and dunk.
Shane Battier led Houston with 18 points, while Yao Ming, hindered by early foul trouble, finished with 17, 12 points below his average through Houston's first two games. McGrady scored 14 but was only 5-of-15 from the field as Houston shot only 40.5 percent, including 9-of-27 from 3-point range.
"Yao and Tracy are the main cogs on our team and everything we do is focusing on them, so when Yao is not out there it totally changes the dynamic of our team," Battier said. "We did a decent job of staying in the game without one of our two best players. It's much better when he's out there."
Rafer Alston had 13 points for Houston and Head finished with 10.
Paul scored 12 points and directed the hard-running Hornets to a 19-0 advantage on fast-break points. Rasual Butler scored 11 for New Orleans, hitting all three 3-pointers he took.
"We talked about trying to get up and down the court as fast as we can. It is a point of emphasis every time we play Houston that we try to play up-tempo," Hornets coach Byron Scott said.
Yao had three fouls in the first five minutes of the game and spent the rest of the half on the bench. He ended up playing less than 28 minutes for the whole game.
New Orleans took advantage, turning an early five-point deficit into a lead as large as 11. With Paul pushing the ball up the floor, the Hornets finished the first half with a 16-0 advantage in fast-break points.
Paul had 10 points and 10 assists in the first half alone, and the Hornets shot 51 percent through the opening two periods for a 48-42 lead at halftime.
- Although this was technically the Hornets' first home-opener in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina, it was their fourth game in the city since the storm as they returned for three games last March. NBA commissioner David Stern attended the game and said the Hornets' full-time return is certain for at least the next couple years as the league monitors the city's rebuilding.
- The Hornets are playing in four home openers to begin the season. They were the guests for the first two in Boston and Indiana. Next they have their second home opener in their second home, Oklahoma City, on Tuesday.
- Stojakovic, New Orleans' highest-profile acquisition in the offseason, had been 2-of-9 on 3-pointers and 7-of-25 overall from the field in his first two games.