New Orleans 91, Seattle 88

NEW ORLEANS, Dec. 9 (AP) -- Chris Paul routinely spends a few minutes after practice heaving some long-range shots.

Good thing for the Hornets he does.

Paul's 28-foot rainbow at the shot clock buzzer late in the fourth quarter gave New Orleans the lead for good in a 91-88 victory over the Seattle SuperSonics on Sunday night.

"I love the shots with the shot clock running down,'' Paul said, winking. "Nobody expects me to make them.

"It was probably like a lucky shot,'' Paul added. "I knew once the shot clock was running down, I was going to shoot it and luckily I made one. If that doesn't go, the whole tempo of the game may change. Crazy stuff happens and I'll take it.' '

If that shot was lucky, Paul still made a number of big plays that weren't.

He finished 29 points and 10 assists to carry the undermanned Hornets, who won their second straight game without regular starters Morris Peterson (back strain) and Peja Stojakovic (pulled groin).

The performance came two nights after Paul scored a career-high 43 points in a victory over Memphis.

All he needed was a little help from David West, who hit a crucial jump shot and driving one-handed floater in the final minutes to finish with 15 points and 10 rebounds as the Hornets won their second straight while snapping Seattle's two-game winning streak.

"Late in the game, CP and myself, we want to be the guys taking the shots,'' West said. "I missed a few there before, but again, (Paul) said he would keep on coming back to me and I was able to make a couple down the stretch to help us out.''

Coming off a 35-point performance in a victory over Milwaukee on Friday night, Kevin Durant scored 23 against the Hornets, including his second 3-pointer of the game with 24.1 seconds to go to get the Sonics as close as 86-85. But after Bobby Jackson made a pair of clutch free throws at the other end, Durant missed a driving one-handed floater with 14.9 seconds to go.

West made one of two free throws to push New Orleans' lead to 89-85, but Earl Watson's 3 with 7 seconds left forced the Hornets to continue making free throws.

Jannero Pargo missed two foul shots with 6 seconds left, but Seattle gave the game away when Nick Collison's inaccurate pass up court caused Durant to step on the sideline as he hauled it in. That led to Paul's free throws for the final margin.

All but six of Seattle's players have six years or fewer in the NBA, and Hornets coach Byron Scott said the Sonics' youth probably hurt them in the end.

"They just haven't figured out how to win games like that yet,'' Scott said. "Basically, they just gave it right back to us after we missed a couple of free throws.''

Although Durant led Seattle in scoring, it wasn't one of his better shooting nights. He was 7-of-22 from the field.

Tyson Chandler had 10 points for the Hornets.

Wally Szczerbiak scored 14 for Seattle. Chris Wilcox had 13 points and 12 rebounds, while Kurt Thomas had 12 points and 10 rebounds. Watson scored 12 points.

After trailing by double digits through most of the first half, Seattle opened the third quarter with a 12-2 run to pull to 54-53. Thomas scored eight points during the run and 12 in the quarter, and Durant's fast-break layup tied the game at 60.

The game remained tight from there, with Durant putting Seattle ahead 78-77 on a driving dunk with 4:22 to go.

"You can't dig a hole like we did,'' Seattle coach P.J. Carlesimo said. "In the second half, we were focused and played really well. But you get in a close game on the road, you can lose the game.''

Paul bailed out New Orleans with his long 3-pointer. Paul then set up his floater with a behind-the-back dribble through the lane to put New Orleans up 82-78.

With his roster shortened, Scott gave a first career start to rookie Julian Wright, a former Kansas standout who had experience guarding Durant when this year's second overall draft choice played at Texas. Rasual Butler also got a rare start for New Orleans.

The lineup worked well early, with Wright scoring from close range and Butler hitting a 3-pointer to help the Hornets jump out to a quick double-digit lead.

New Orleans led 52-41 at halftime.

Notes: Wright finished his first career start with six points, six rebounds, three assists and a steal in 38 minutes. ... Thomas left the game for good in the fourth quarter after getting hit in the mouth and needing stitches. .. Seattle G Luke Ridnour, who had missed the Sonics' previous 12 games with a left quadriceps injury, returned against New Orleans. He played about 12 minutes and scored three points. ... Seattle G Delonte West (right foot plantar fasciitis) was inactive. ... Butler fouled out with 1:35 to go when he broke up an alley-oop pass for Durant. ... New Orleans outshot Seattle 53.5 percent to 36.6 percent in the first half, when Chandler had three dunks, two on alley-oops. ... Attendance was announced at 10,773.

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