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Francis scores 24 to help Magic past Hornets

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- The New Orleans Hornets gave Steve Francis
and the Orlando Magic too many chances and it cost them.

Francis scored 24 points, including seven in the final 2:01, to
help Orlando beat New Orleans 88-83 on Wednesday night for the
Hornets' first loss in Oklahoma City.

"He shot a lot of shots toward the end of game. He made a
couple of them," said Hornets rookie Chris Paul. "If you shoot
that much, hopefully one of them will go in."

After DeShawn Stevenson's layup gave the Magic an 79-69 lead,
the Hornets came charging back, going on a 10-3 run.

Speedy Claxton, who finished with 24 points, hit back-to-back
baskets and his free throw with 1:23 left pulled New Orleans within
three, 82-79.

Francis put back Jameer Nelson's miss on Orlando's next
possession to put the Magic back up by five. David West scored to
close the gap back to 84-81 with 49.9 seconds left, but New Orleans
couldn't get a stop on the other end.

Stevenson came down with the second of two Francis misses before
getting fouled with 8.5 seconds left. He hit both free throws to
put Orlando up 86-81. After Claxton hit a jumper in the lane with
four seconds left, Francis hit two free throws to seal the win.

"We still had our chances to win this game, to try to win an
ugly game, but we just didn't make enough plays down the stretch to
get it," Hornets forward P.J. Brown said.

Orlando outrebounded New Orleans 43-33.

"I thought a few bounced their way -- crazy bounces and things
like that -- but you've got to block out," Brown said. "We're not
a big team anyway, so we've got to stick to the fundamentals. When
that ball goes up, you've got to find a body."

Magic coach Brian Hill was pleased with the way his team bounced
back after picking up its first win Tuesday night in Houston.
Orlando had its highest scoring output of the season after entering
the game averaging a league-low 79.5 points.

"This was a character game for us," Hill said. "This showed
exactly what type of character these guys have."

New Orleans won its season opener against Sacramento 93-67 in
Oklahoma City on Nov. 1 in front of a sellout crowd.

The crowd for the second game fell 655 fans short of a second
straight sellout, and the 18,508 fans had little to cheer about as
the Hornets fell behind early by 11 points. Rasual Butler brought
the fans to their feet with a two-handed, fast-break jam off a pass
from Claxton.

They rose again when Chris Paul gave the Hornets a 40-39 lead
with his layup late in the second quarter. The Magic led 41-40 at
halftime after Dwight Howard slammed home a Francis miss with two
hands.

Howard, who finished with 16 points and 13 rebounds, said he was
impressed by the crowd and wanted to come back to the Ford Center
soon.

"They've really got a great fan base here," Howard said.
"When we go home, we see a packed house every once in a while, but
I watch them play on TV and it's a packed house here."

Desmond Mason and West added 12 points each for New Orleans, and
Paul had 10.

Game notes
NBA commissioner David Stern attended the game and praised
Oklahoma City for its response to the Hornets' move. He stayed
neutral on the game's outcome. "I'm a basketball fan," he said.
... Howard and New Orleans guard J.R. Smith were co-MVPs of the
2004 McDonald's All-American game, which also was played in
Oklahoma City's Ford Center. Smith scored 25 and Howard scored 19
as their East team beat the West 126-96. ... A snippet of the
Oklahoma State fight song was played after Mason, a former OSU
star, hit a free throw in the first half and a 3-pointer in the
second half.