Hornets 95, Bucks 91
NEW ORLEANS (AP)
Chris Paul spent the past couple months dismissing the trade talk swirling around him and insisting that he was committed to giving the Hornets' new regime a fair chance.
In the regular season opener, he played like he meant it.
Paul was quick to praise Williams after the game and said the team gave their new coach the game ball.
''He's not just a head coach. He's more than that because he really wants us to succeed and he puts a lot of time in,'' Paul said. ''So we were happy to get him his first win and his first game ball.''
Williams, a former NBA player, described himself as ''nervy'' heading into his first game as a head coach.
''I'll calm down in July when we're not playing anymore. It's natural for me. It's the same way I was when I played,'' Williams said. ''So much of it is you want to do well, you want the guys to perform well.''
The Bucks didn't make it easy for him. Carlos Delfino hit five 3-pointers and scored 19 points for Milwaukee, which led 72-67 late in the third quarter.
Andrew Bogut had 15 points and 15 rebounds, but his night was ruined by 3-of-10 shooting on free throws, including six critical misses in the fourth quarter.
''We were sluggish tonight and didn't play with a lot of energy,'' Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. ''The Hornets played with more energy and they deserved to win.''
During the offseason, Paul had expressed dissatisfaction with the Hornets' lack of competitiveness and said he'd accept a trade if New Orleans did not demonstrate a commitment to quickly becoming a contender in the tough Western Conference. Numerous teams called about trading for the three-time All-Star point guard, but the Hornets rebuffed them all.
Coming out of a 1-7 preseason that gave little indication of whether they'd be any good, New Orleans looked solid against a feisty Bucks squad with playoff expectations in the East. The Hornets led the entire fourth quarter, in large part because Paul closed out the third with a tough floater and 3 at the buzzer to make it 78-72.
Paul also made a clutch pull-up jumper with 2:17 to go in the final period and added a couple free throws with 1:10 left.
''We can't turn on the switch when we're down and we have to scramble to win,'' he said. ''We have a lot of weapons. Teams are scared of our depth. It was a lot of little things that we did wrong offensively and defensively that hurt us.''
The game kicked off a new era for the Hornets, who after missing the playoffs last season hired Williams, as well as new general manager Dell Demps. The Hornets then went to work on overhauling their roster with a series of trades that brought in new starters Belinelli and small forward Trevor Ariza.
Ariza had 11 points in his Hornets debut, including a dunk set up by Belinelli to put the Hornets up 90-84 late in the game. Still, it was the old foundation that remained - Paul and West - which led the way. West scored the Hornets' first 10 points of the second half, hitting four jumpers set up by Paul.
West, however, was limited to 27 minutes because of foul trouble. He committed his fifth foul with 9:24 left in the game and was subbed in and out often late in the game to minimize the amount he had to play defense.
''It's a long season, but there are some things that we've done in this game we can be proud of,'' West said. ''It always feels good to get your first one, especially here at home, just to get a good taste in your mouth and feel good about some of the things we've been working on.''
Notes: Paul's 16 assists set a franchise record for assists in a season opener, eclipsing the 14 Muggsy Bogues had on Nov. 6, 1992 against Washington. ... Milwaukee guard Chris Douglas-Roberts, who has an eye injury, did not travel to New Orleans with the team, while forwards Jon Brockman (left ankle) and Luc Mbah a Moute (right ankle) did not dress for the game. ... The Bucks also opened the season without guard Michael Redd, who is rehabilitating from offseason left knee surgery. ... Seven Hornets made debut for the club, including Ariza, Belinelli, Willie Green, Jerryd Bayless, D.J. Mbenga, Pops Mensah-Bonsu and Jason Smith.