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Hornets beat Sonics, keep playoff hopes alive

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Chris Paul is comfortable with the Hornets'
playoff hopes in his hands.

The rookie point guard scored 21 points, including four in the
final minute, and New Orleans held off the Seattle SuperSonics for
a 104-99 win Wednesday night that helped the Hornets gain ground in
the playoff race.

After Seattle closed an 11-point deficit to three in the final
five minutes, New Orleans turned to Paul.

He started to drive against 7-foot center Robert Swift but
stepped back to sink a jumper to put New Orleans up by five with 35
seconds to play.

"I love taking that shot. The shot clock's running down, you're
just out trying to make a play and fortunately the shot went in,"
Paul said.

After Ray Allen answered on the other end with a reverse layup,
Paul missed a jumper but Kirk Snyder was able to knock the
offensive rebound to Paul. He stepped to the line and sealed the
game with two free throws with 3.2 seconds left.

"I think everybody on this team wants the ball in their hands
in that situation," Paul said. "Being the point guard, I guess
that's my job."

The Hornets trail Sacramento by two games for the final playoff
spot in the Western Conference. The teams meet Sunday in
Sacramento. The Kings' magic number is two.

"Every game from here on out is a must-win," Paul said. "One
loss could really be big for us."

Marc Jackson and Desmond Mason added 17 points apiece as both
players had their first double-doubles of the season. Jackson had a
season-high 14 rebounds while Mason pulled down 10.

The Hornets have won six of nine after a stretch of 12 losses in
13 games knocked them out of the top eight in the West.

"Well, the door is still open," Hornets coach Byron Scott
said. "It is only open slightly but it is open. It's a matter of
us taking care of business and getting a little help."

The Hornets took their largest lead when Jackson followed
Snyder's two-handed alley-oop dunk with a layup to make it 93-82.
Seattle started a comeback with a 3-pointer by Rashard Lewis with
4:40 to play.

Swift pulled the Sonics within 100-97 when he made a free throw
with 58 seconds left.

"It's do or die for us," Mason said. "We've got to win these
games. We can't afford to lose one on not getting a rebound or not
running up and down the floor or not helping our teammates. I
thought we did all those things."

Allen scored 36 on 6-for-9 shooting from 3-point range and Lewis
added 20 points. Sonics forward Chris Wilcox sprained his right
foot and did not play the fourth quarter. Seattle was outrebounded
44-30.

"I don't think they are any better of a team than we are,"
Allen said. "Teams that come out and play hard every night, those
are the teams that are going to win, regardless of what their
records are."

Snyder and Speedy Claxton each added 10 points and rookie
Brandon Bass scored a career-high nine for the Hornets. Bass got
more playing time with leading-scorer David West (sprained left
ankle) out and Aaron Williams leaving in the second quarter with a
sore right knee.

Seattle made 17 of its first 27 shots (63 percent) and led 41-30
in the second quarter when Allen finished a 7-0 run with a driving
finger roll and a 3-pointer from the right wing.

Claxton then sparked a 15-4 response by the Hornets with a
three-point play off an inbounds pass under the basket, and P.J.
Brown tied the game at 45 with two free throws.

The Hornets then pushed ahead for a 55-50 lead and were up 58-56
at halftime after Jackson hit his first 3-pointer of the season.

Game notes
Oklahoma City businessman Clayton Bennett, who is
reportedly negotiating to buy a minority stake in the Hornets, sat
in a courtside seat at halfcourt. He also was thought to be a
possible buyer of the Sonics, whose request for financial
assistance was not taken up by the Washington Legislature this
year. ... Brown was called for a foul on the opening tip. ...
Jackson, a 6-foot-10 center, is 7-for-31 from 3-point range in his
six-year NBA career. ... The Hornets outscored an opponent in the
third quarter for the second time in their last 17 games. In that
span, they scored more than 22 points in the third quarter only
three times and scored 15 or less four times.