Paul, West lead Hornets past Rockets

3-25-07 -- Tyson Chandler raised his arms in the air, savoring the moment as the Hornets finally sealed a win against a playoff-bound foe with Desmond Mason's dunk.

Chris Paul scored 28 points, David West added 23 and Mason put the finishing touches on New Orleans' game-ending run as the Hornets pulled away late for a 106-94 win Sunday night against the Houston Rockets.

Chandler held both arms over his head to celebrate Mason's dunk, then pointed one finger to the ceiling as the final seconds ticked off the scoreboard clock. A sellout crowd came to its feet and joined in by twirling white rally towels.

"It was a great feeling to sort of know we had sealed the deal," Paul said. "We didn't have to grit it out too much. It was just a great team effort."

New Orleans finished the game on a 13-3 run, punctuated by Mason's steal and dunk in the final minute.

It was New Orleans' first win against a Western Conference playoff team since Feb. 7 against Denver and moved the Hornets within two games of the idle Los Angeles Clippers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.

Following a six-game losing streak, the Hornets have won four of six games.

"It's a big step in the right direction, but it's one game," said Paul, who had a career-high four 3-pointers. "We've got to continue to do this the rest of the season."

Tracy McGrady scored 31 points to lead Houston, which had a five-game winning streak snapped. Yao Ming added 16 points, Luther Head scored 15 off the bench and Rafer Alston had 12.

Mason scored 19 points, and Chandler had 14 points and 10 rebounds while allowing Yao to make only one of his final 11 shots.

"You just try to wear him down," Chandler said. "I just take it minute by minute, quarter by quarter and put as much pressure on him as possible to make him work defensively, make him box me out, sprint for no reason to make him run, just hope it wears on his legs and come the third and fourth quarters his shots come up short."

The Rockets led 57-45 in the opening minute of the second half, after what ended up being Yao's next-to-last basket. The 7-foot-6 All-Star felt he settled for too many jump shots.

"I believe I can make those shots, but not today," Yao said. "I don't know what happened. I just kept missing."

The Hornets eliminated the 12-point deficit with a 21-7 run, and Paul's right-handed runner in the lane gave New Orleans its first lead at 66-64 with 3:03 left in the third quarter. His 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds left in the period gave New Orleans a 75-73 lead, and the Hornets added the first four points of the fourth quarter to finish off a 9-0 run.

They wouldn't trail again -- thanks in large part to West and Paul, who teamed up to score 18 of the Hornets' final 25 points.

Houston got within one point on five occasions in the fourth quarter, but could never pull ahead. Paul protected the one-point lead the final time with his three-point play that gave New Orleans a 93-89 lead with 3:21 remaining.

McGrady followed with another driving layup, but West answered with a right-hander in the lane that started the game-ending run.

The Hornets scored the final nine points, beginning with Chandler's putback of a Mason miss. Paul hit a fadeaway jumper over Alston, and Rasual Butler added a 3-pointer from the right corner before Mason's dunk set off the Hornets' third sellout crowd in as many home games -- two in Oklahoma City and one in New Orleans.

"Every game for us is a huge game," Chandler said.