HOUSTON -- The New Orleans Hornets played their home games in Oklahoma City the last two seasons and their home-court attendance this year is the lowest in the Western Conference.
Maybe that explains why they've learned to play so well on the road.
Chris Paul had 19 points and 11 assists and made four free throws in the final 15 seconds to lift the Hornets to an 87-82 victory over the Houston Rockets on Sunday, New Orleans' seventh consecutive road victory.
"We just have guys who've been in just about any situation," Paul said. "When you have that energy against you, it pushes us and helps us out a lot."
The Hornets are 15-5 on the road this season, already matching last year's win total away from home.
"When we started talking about what we needed to do this season, having a better road record was definitely one of our main focuses," New Orleans coach Byron Scott said. "These guys are young and when we get on the road, it's just us, so they seem to really focus a lot better."
David West scored 26 points and grabbed 12 rebounds for the Hornets, who snapped the Rockets' five-game winning streak. The Hornets have won seven of the last nine meetings with Houston, a divisional rival.
Not coincidentally, the Hornets' dominance in the series has coincided with Paul's three seasons. Last year, Paul averaged 18 points and 11 assists against Houston and New Orleans won three of four meetings.
"He kind of controls how they play," Houston coach Rick Adelman said.
Yao Ming had 30 points, 16 rebounds and six turnovers for the Rockets, who lost for the third time in the 10 games Tracy McGrady has missed with a sore left knee. McGrady is expected to return for Saturday's game against San Antonio.
The Hornets trailed most of the second half -- outscored 18-2 during a Houston run -- until Tyson Chandler stripped the ball twice from Yao late in the fourth quarter, triggering fast breaks. Rasual Butler finished the second one with a dunk with 1:35 left, got fouled and hit the free throw to put New Orleans up 81-78.
Yao and Adelman both said Chandler slapped Yao's hand on the second steal.
"A superstar is supposed to get calls and he doesn't get the calls," Adelman said. "Simple as that."
Yao hit a turnaround with 1:19 remaining, then sank two free throws after Chandler got his sixth foul with 34.3 seconds left to put Houston back ahead.
Paul blew past Rafer Alston for a layup with 29.3 seconds left. Yao missed a hook shot at the other end, and Paul went 4-for-4 from the free-throw line down the stretch to secure the victory.
"We know what to do in the last six minutes of a game," Paul said.
Chandler grabbed 14 rebounds for New Orleans, now just a game behind Dallas in the Southwest Division.
Alston had 12 points and seven assists for the Rockets.
The Hornets led 26-18 after Paul led them on a 14-6 run to end the first quarter. Paul had five assists in the quarter and sank a 3-pointer just before the buzzer to give New Orleans its biggest lead to that point.
Paul rested to start the second quarter and the Rockets opened with a 10-2 spurt to tie it at 28. Paul returned with 8:31 left in the half and the Hornets outscored the Rockets 9-2 in the final four minutes to take a 46-39 halftime lead.
Paul had eight assists in the first half, most of them to West, who scored 16. Rockets rookie Aaron Brooks held his own against Paul in the half, scoring eight points, including a 3-pointer.
The Hornets led 56-48, but went cold during an 18-2 Houston run. Alston swished a 3-pointer and banked in another, and Yao converted a three-point play as the Rockets headed to the final quarter with a 63-58 lead.
New Orleans missed eight of nine shots before Bobby Jackson's off-balance jumper with 10:22 left cut the Rockets' lead to 66-60.
"We looked stagnant, I was turning the ball over. We looked bad," Paul said. "But that's one thing about our team. We showed a lot of poise on the road."
The Rockets led 76-72 when Paul returned after a short rest. West scored again with 5:41 left to trim the deficit to two and start the Hornets' rally.
|Chris Paul provides six crucial points (layup, four FTs) for the Hornets in the final 30 seconds. (Getty Images)|
|New Orleans (25-12) «||26||20||12||29||87|
|NO:D. West 26 Pts
NO:T. Chandler 14 Reb
NO:C. Paul 11 Ast
|HOU:Y. Ming 30 Pts
HOU:Y. Ming 16 Reb
HOU:R. Alston 7 Ast
|Players of the Game|
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|T. Chandler, C||40||3-9||1-2||14||2||6||7|
|D. West, PF||39||12-27||2-2||12||2||1||26|
|C. Paul, PG||38||7-14||4-4||3||11||1||19|
|P. Stojakovic, SG||26||0-5||2-2||2||0||3||2|
|M. Peterson, SG||21||2-5||0-0||3||0||1||5|
|J. Pargo, PG||19||4-8||0-0||1||1||0||10|
|B. Jackson, PG||17||4-7||0-0||0||0||0||9|
|R. Bowen, SF||16||2-5||0-0||0||0||3||4|
|M. Ely, C||16||1-3||0-0||2||0||3||2|
|R. Butler, SG||6||1-2||1-1||1||0||0||3|
|H. Armstrong, PF||Did Not Play|
|M. Vinicius, SF||Did Not Play|
|A. Haluska, SG||Did Not Play|
|J. Wright, SF||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|
|Y. Ming, C||42||11-24||8-11||16||1||2||30|
|R. Alston, PG||40||4-13||2-2||3||7||3||12|
|S. Battier, SF||33||1-4||0-0||4||3||1||2|
|L. Head, PG||33||4-11||2-2||4||1||4||11|
|C. Hayes, PF||19||1-2||0-0||2||0||0||2|
|L. Scola, PF||29||3-6||0-0||7||1||2||6|
|A. Brooks, PG||24||4-9||2-3||0||3||3||11|
|B. Wells, SG||15||2-3||2-4||2||0||0||6|
|C. Landry, PF||6||1-1||0-0||1||1||2||2|
|D. Mutombo, C||Did Not Play|
|T. McGrady, SG||Did Not Play|
|S. Francis, PG||Did Not Play|
|M. James, PG||Did Not Play|
|K. Snyder, SG||Did Not Play|
|S. Novak, SF||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|