Basketball-NBA: Hornets send message with road rout of Spurs

( dpa )- Come the end of the season, the San Antonio Spurs certainly will have a say in defending their NBA title. But right now, the best team in the Western Conference is the New Orleans Hornets.

With a stunning second-half blitz led by David West and Chris Paul, the Hornets embarrassed the host Spurs, 102-78, on Saturday night for their eighth straight victory.

West scored 32 points and Paul added 17 and 11 assists for the Hornets (31-12), who have used their recent hot streak to climb to the top of the loaded West. They have beaten foes by an average of 20.3 points during the streak and made the defending champions their latest victim.

"They were fantastic," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich , whose team suffered its worst loss of the season. "You can see why they have the best record in the West."

"We're a pretty good basketball team," said Hornets coach Byron Scott, whose team also set a franchise record with its eighth straight road win. "But we all understand there's still a long way to go in this season."

West and Paul made it a long night for the Spurs. West made 15-of-19 shots, many of them mid-range jumpers. Paul ran a sparkling floor game as he outplayed "French Flash" Tony Parker, the 2007 Finals MVP.

I think we're making big steps in the right direction," Paul said.

The Spurs held a 59-58 lead midway through the third period on a runner by Argentine Manu Ginobili , who scored 11 points. The Hornets closed the quarter on a 14-5 run highlighted by six points from West for a 72-64 lead.

After Nigerian native Ime Udoka opened the final period with a jumper for San Antonio, New Orleans rattled off 14 straight points to build a 20-point advantage with 7:33 to go. West drilled three jumpers and Paul had a pair of buckets and three assists.

A 3-pointer by Serbia's Peja Stojakovic , who scored 22 points, built the bulge to 98-72 with 3:55 remaining and signaled the start of garbage time.

In the second half, New Orleans outscored San Antonio, 60-35. On their home floor, the Spurs had scoreless stretches of 4:40 and 4:47.

"We're playing really aggressive," West said. "We feel like if we come in the games with the right defensive mentality, that we're good enough offensively to hang with just about anybody."

Spurs superstar Tim Duncan scored 17 points but none in the final 18-plus minutes as he was harassed by 7-1 Tyson Chandler, who overcame foul trouble in the first half to finish with eight points, 12 rebounds and a block. He anchored a defense that held the Spurs to 42 percent (33-of-79) shooting, including just 2-of-20 from the arc.

Meanwhile, the Hornets shot 54 percent (44-of-81) and held a 41-32 edge in rebounds.

"It's probably the biggest win we've had," Hornets coach Byron Scott said.

The Spurs (28-14) are 2 1/2 games behind the Hornets in both the Southwest Division and Western Conference standings as they begin their annual "Rodeo Road Trip," a nine-game trek while the rodeo takes over the AT& T Center.

The trip usually galvanizes the Spurs and prepares them for their annual push for an NBA title. There appears to be a new contender standing in the way.

"(It's) an opportunity for us to come together as a team and to spend a lot of time together," Popovich said. "We'll have fewer distractions and, hopefully, we'll really nail down the way we want to play."

Miami 98, Indiana 96

A key defensive play by Dwyane Wade helped the host Heat (9-33) snap a 15-game losing streak, the longest in the NBA this season and the second-longest in franchise history.

"You want to get it over with," said Miami coach Pat Riley, whose team had not won since December 22 vs. Utah. "You just get over it and then you can move on. It doesn't alleviate anything else. Once you get it over with, then you think about it. It lasts for one second."

Wade scored 13 of his 35 points in the third quarter, when Miami erased a nine-point deficit. He saved his biggest play for the final seconds, deflecting an inbounds pass into the backcourt and forcing a long shot by Indiana's Andre Owens that wasn't close.

"This had to be the game," Wade said.

Mike Dunleavy Jr. scored 25 points for the Pacers, who have dropped 13 of 17.

Philadelphia 103, Charlotte 96

At Charlotte, Andre Iguodala scored a season-high 33 points as the 76ers rallied in the second half to end a three-game losing streak. Jason Richardson made seven 3-pointers and scored 35 points for the Bobcats.

Memphis 125, LA Clippers 120 (OT)

Rudy Gay had a career-high 34 points and 12 rebounds for host Memphis, which played without Spanish star Pau Gasol (sore back) and ended a two-game losing streak. Corey Maggette scored a season-high 25 points for Los Angeles, which has dropped two in a row and 14 of 18.

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