NEW ORLEANS (AP) -If all Chris Paul and the New Orleans Hornets had done was race to a franchise-best 5-0 start, that would be surprising enough.
Doing it with a rookie coach one season after missing the playoffs, and beating the Miami Heat's All-Star trio in the process adds a little more sizzle to their hot start.
``We just got to keep playing, man. I'm not surprised just because we're all professionals,' Paul said. ``It doesn't matter what it looks like on paper, you just have to go out and play the game and that's what we're doing.'
Emeka Okafor evoked memories of his dominant college days at Connecticut with a season-high 26 points and 13 rebounds, Paul had 13 points, 19 assists and five steals, and New Orleans held on for a 96-93 victory over Miami on Friday night.
``Mek was outstanding tonight,' Paul said. ``Every time he stepped out on the court, he played with a lot of passion and I think when he gets going, we all feed off of him. He just played a great game.'
Paul's ability to dribble through traffic and distract defenders helped him get the ball to Okafor for a couple dunks, one on an alley-oop. But Okafor did a lot of his own work while going 12 of 13 from the field, spinning into the lane for a jump hook and tipping in one of Paul's misses.
Okafor credited teammates for getting him involved in the offense early.
``That's important. It gets you going, gives you energy,' Okafor said. ``When you're involved in the offense and you're getting that ball, you just feel more engaged and all of a sudden your rhythm's up, your legs have more spring.'
David West added 15 points, including crucial free throws with 7.2 seconds to go after Chris Bosh's 3 had pulled Miami within 94-93. Dwyane Wade then gave up a potential tying 3-point attempt and passed to Eddie House, whose shot rimmed out in the final seconds.
``He got a great look,' Wade said of House, a 3-point specialist. ``We'd live with that shot every game if we had to. He's a great shooter. Unfortunately it just didn't go in.'
Miami did not take its first lead until LeBron James' free throws made it 90-89 with 59.8 seconds left, but the Hornets responded with Marco Belinelli's free throws, and then Trevor Ariza's 3.
``One thing we have to continue to learn, that every time we step out on the basketball court, no matter who we're going against, we can't just show up, you know, because we have this uniform on, because we have who we have on the court,' James said. ``We have to play and it's not about Xs and Os, it's about the energy level.
``We know we can still make a comeback because of the talent that we have, but teams are always going to be excited to play us,' James continued. ``If we don't match that effort early, then it's always an uphill battle throughout the whole game and that's what it was.'
Wade led all scorers with 28 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. He scored 12 points in the fourth quarter, and went 13 of 13 from the foul line.
New Orleans led 86-79 inside the final five minutes when Wade ignited Miami's late surge with a 3. He then drew Belinelli into a foul on another 3-point attempt and made all three free throws to cut it to 86-85.
Paul set up Okafor for a basket inside, and the Hornets appeared ready to put it away when Paul used a crossover dribble to create space and drove in for an apparent floater off the glass. However, officials called Paul for a charge and then Paul's animated response drew a technical foul.
Soon after, James, who had 20 points and 10 assists, finally put Miami in the lead, and it appeared that the dream start of first-year Hornets coach Monty Williams was about to end.
Paul and Co. had other ideas.
``It's nice to be part of a group who plays hard every night,' Williams said. ``Different guys are stepping up. ... The start is great, but we are going to win a lot of games if we play defense like that.'
New Orleans shot 49 percent while holding Miami to 42 percent. Ariza finished with 13 points for New Orleans and reserve Jason Smith had 12.
Bosh had 15 points for Miami and Zydrunas Ilgauskas scored 10. The loss meant James played more than 41 fruitless minutes and Wade 40, one night before they were scheduled to play again at home against New Jersey.
Notes: James said before the game that he had seen Cleveland's mock version of his Nike ``What should I do' ad campaign. He offered only a brief, unemotional assessment: ``It was all right. They could have done a better job.' ... The Hornets also mocked James' made-for-TV ``Decision' segment, only with the decision being made by mascot Hugo the Hornet. With the Fletcher Mackel, sports anchor for NBC affiliate WDSU-TV, handling the interview, it played on the arena's large video board to mild laughter. ... Attendance was announced as an overflow sellout of 17,988, and the crowd included Saints players Drew Brees, Darren Sharper and Tracy Porter, as well as rap artist Lil Wayne, who was released from jail this week.
The Associated Press News Service
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