Hornets 100, Magic 93
NEW ORLEANS (AP)
One of David West's best efforts of the season seemed destined to go to waste until seldom-used reserve Aaron Gray sauntered onto the court and put his 7-foot, 270-pound frame on Dwight Howard.
West had 40 points and 10 rebounds, and Gray slowed Orlando's All-Star center enough to help the Hornets erase an 18-point hole en route to a 100-93 victory over the Magic on Friday night.
``I'm really happy for Aaron that he was able to play a large role in a great win,'' Hornets coach Jeff Bower said. ``We thought his size would be factor. He was very effective tonight. His intensity and effort were outstanding.''
Howard led Orlando with 26 points and 10 rebounds, but scored only five points and threw down only one of his eight dunks after Bower called on Gray in the third quarter to muscle Howard away from the basket.
That's when the Hornets' comeback began and the Magic ran out of steam, hitting only four of 18 shots in the fourth quarter.
``I just tried to keep a body on him, be physical,'' Gray said. ``I knew that in order for us to get back into this game, we had to slow him down a little bit. We did that and I think that got him a little frustrated, especially when they were missing shots.
Gray wound up with seven rebounds and scored six points, all during a crucial stretch in the final period. His short jumper in the lane gave the Hornets an 87-86 lead and began an 11-0 run in the final minutes that put away the game.
``It's a huge win and God knows we needed it,'' Gray said.
The Hornets (31-28) came into the game having lost two straight on the road and in ninth place in the Western Conference. With the victory, New Orleans pulled back within two games of Portland for the eighth and final playoff spot.
Marcus Thornton scored 18 for the Hornets, including a 3-pointer that made it 96-86 with 51 seconds to go. Fellow rookie Darren Collison added 16 points.
Jameer Nelson scored 19 for the Magic, while J.J. Redick added 11 and Matt Barnes 10.
Howard was able to establish good inside position against Hornets 6-10 starting center Emeka Okafor. His seventh dunk of the game, along with his short hook and free throw, helped fuel a 13-2 run that put the Magic up 71-53.
Soon after, Bower subbed in Gray, a third-year pro out of Pittsburgh, and Howard's offense fell off dramatically.
Howard said he did not have a tougher time getting inside position on Gray than on Okafor. Instead, he said his team became too impatient in general and was too quick to shoot from outside.
``Whatever's working, we've got to keep going to and not shy away from,'' Howard said.
In any event, the Hornets - and the crowd - got back in the game.
Collison hit a pair of jumpers and West added a tough 20-foot fade and an inside basket during a 10-0 run. New Orleans later pulled to 75-69 on West's floater.
``I wanted to come out aggressive,'' West said. ``We've got a tough stretch of games coming up. We felt like coming off the road trip where we dropped two, we just wanted to come in here and put together a solid game win or lose. We played with the effort and we stuck with the game plan in what we wanted to do against them. We had some key contributions and we were ready to play tonight.''
After Orlando started to rebuild its lead on Barnes' 3 and Redick's layup, Collison responded with a 3, and New Orleans trailed 80-72 heading into the final quarter.
New Orleans then scored the first nine points of the fourth quarter, while Orlando opened the period with four missed shots and two turnovers.
West hit a 3 as the shot clock wound down and added a fast-break layup to put New Orleans up 81-80 with 8:24 to go. The Magic twice regained the lead before New Orleans took over.
Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy spoke bitterly of his team's 18 turnovers and general collapse.
``We looked for opportunities to relax, lose focus and let down, and we deserved to lose,'' Van Gundy said. ``We've gotten to the point where Dwight can't merely be very good. He has to be absolutely dominant for us to win.
``It was awful basketball,'' he continued. ``Hopefully we learned something from it.''
NOTES: West has scored 40 or more points five times in his career, with a career high of 44 earlier this season. ... The Hornets had only two assists in the first half, both by Collison. ... The Magic won the only other meeting this season in Orlando on Feb. 8, 123-117. Vince Carter scored 48 in that game as the Magic erased a 17-point deficit. Carter had eight points in the rematch. ... The Hornets are 6-7 since All-Star Chris Paul went out with a left knee injury. Paul is expected to return in the next one to three weeks. ... West was called for a technical foul for throwing an elbow at Carter.