Butlerís Big Game Helps Hornets End Slide
New Orleans/Oklahoma City 120, L.A. Clippers 108
NEW ORLEANS, March 21 (Ticker) -- Rasual Butler helped the New Orleans Hornets finally give their hometown fans something to cheer about.
Butler made seven 3-pointers and scored 32 points - both career highs - as the Hornets ended a season-high eight-game slide with an emotional 120-108 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.
David West had 21 points and 11 rebounds for the Hornets (32-33), who won for the first time since February 26 at Portland. The drought dropped them from sixth to ninth in the Western Conference, putting a damper on their postseason hopes.
The skid included all three games at New Orleans Arena, which was severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina, forcing the Hornets to relocate to Oklahoma City for this season and next season.
The team returned to the Crescent City for the first time March 8, losing to the Los Angeles Lakers. On Saturday, they were beaten here again by Denver.
"People put other stuff on the back burner to come out and see us play," West said. "It was nice to send them home happy."
Desperately needing a win, the Hornets were sparked by Butler, a small forward with a sweet shooting touch who made his second straight start for the injured Desmond Mason. He made 12-of-16 shots, including 7-of-9 from the arc.
"Unbelievable," Hornets rookie guard Chris Paul said. "I told him to keep shooting and don't hesitate. When he shoots with confidence, he's a great shooter."
Butler scored 13 points in the first period, helping New Orleans open a 33-23 lead. He struck again in the fourth quarter, when it appeared the Hornets were on the verge of a collapse.
Once trailing by 16 points, the Clippers closed to 97-93 with 8:14 remaining on a pair of 3-pointers by Corey Maggette, who scored 18 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter. Butler responded with two 3-pointers, rebuilding the lead to double digits and igniting the crowd.
"I didn't do a good job against Denver," Butler said. "So the last two days I worked on my stroke. Coach (Byron Scott) told me to continue to take my shots. I had a lot of open 3-pointers and some open drives to the basket."
The Hornets led by at least six points thereafter. The Clippers closed to 109-103 with just under three minutes to go but had two empty possessions before West sank a jumper at the 1:29 mark.
Paul had 21 points and nine assists for the Hornets, who shot 52 percent (44-of-85), including 12-of-22 from the arc.
Elton Brand scored 24 points and Vladimir Radmanovic added 18 for the Clippers, who shot 56 percent (41-of-74). Los Angeles (39-37) had won six of its last seven games but saw its lead over Memphis for fifth place in the West reduced to 1 1/2 games.
When the Clippers last met the Hornets on March 1, they set an NBA record by allowing just 16 points in the second half of an 89-67 victory. This time, they surrendered the Hornets' highest total of the season.
"That's what I get for showing our guys a film of how good we were defensively last night (at Houston)," Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. "We started out good, then we got soft. Our bench came in and was soft. A team that loses eight games in a row is going to come out fighting for their lives. That message was delivered, and we didn't respond."
The Hornets also got a boost from guard J.R. Smith, who had been buried in coach Byron Scott's doghouse. Having played just 46 minutes since Feb. 1, Smith had seven points, a steal and a block in the second quarter, helping New Orleans widen its lead to 63-49 at halftime.
"J.R. played great," Hornets center P.J. Brown said. "He's been on the bench, but he came in and was prepared. He was professional."