The Hornets' homecoming turned into another Kobe show.
Kobe Bryant scored 18 of his 40 points in the fourth quarter as the Los Angeles Lakers beat New Orleans, 113-107, last night, disappointing the standing-room crowd that put aside its Hurricane Katrina problems for a night of cheering on its team.
It was the first professional sporting event in New Orleans since the Aug. 29 storm destroyed much of the city, scattered residents across the United States, and sent the Hornets to Oklahoma City for the season. Hornets owner George Shinn had worried about the city's ability to supply a crowd for the game -- the first of three to be played in New Orleans this season. Only an estimated 189,000 of the city's roughly 465,000 pre-Katrina residents have returned. But the game was a sellout, with 17,744 people jammed in and the arena's $10 million restoration ready for the crowd.
''It's a sellout, which sends a signal around the country that New Orleans is coming back," Shinn said.
Fans arrived early and happy, congregating outside well before tipoff and forming a line that ran down the block to get in.
The Hornets will play 35 games in Oklahoma City next season and six in New Orleans, but both Shinn and NBA commissioner David Stern repeated assurances that they planned for the team to return to New Orleans in 2007.
''It's not just a game," Governor Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana said as she watched the game. ''It's a real symbol of our ability to restore and renew ourselves and come back strong."
The Hornets, who trailed, 58-52, at halftime, opened the third quarter with a 15-8 run to take the lead, 67-66, on David West's 20-foot jumper with 5:19 left. Los Angeles trailed, 87-83, with 9:33 left in the game, but rallied behind Bryant, who also hit 14 of 16 free throws.
Heat 118, Wizards 112 -- Dwyane Wade returned from a two-game absence to score 40 points and lead host Miami to its 10th consecutive victory. Wade, who was sidelined because of a sprained right wrist, has scored 115 points in three games this season against Washington.
Pistons 106, Bulls 101 -- Richard Hamilton scored 14 of his 24 points in a wild fourth quarter as Detroit improved to 27-2 at home. The Bulls scored 37 points in the fourth -- a quarter that saw four players score at least 10 points -- but gave up 38.
Cavaliers 98, Raptors 97 --Damon Jones made a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give visiting Cleveland its fourth straight victory. Toronto's Morris Peterson had given the Raptors the lead with a go-ahead 3-pointer with 4.8 seconds left, but a double-teamed LeBron James found a wide-open Jones in the corner for the winning bucket.
Rockets 103, Pacers 99 -- Yao Ming scored a season-high 38 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to help host Houston rally from a 17-point deficit and win for the seventh time in nine games.
Jazz 96, Timberwolves 93 -- Andrei Kirilenko had 8 blocks and 8 assists to go with 15 points and 11 rebounds, and host Utah won consecutive games for the first time in nearly a month.
Kings 123, Bucks 116 -- Mike Bibby scored 36 points, and visiting Sacramento tied its season high for points in a victory over Milwaukee.
Bobcats 104, Warriors 101 -- Jumaine Jones made two free throws with 1.4 seconds to play to lift host Charlotte.
Grizzlies 99, SuperSonics 74 -- Pau Gasol had the first triple-double of his career with 21 points, 12 rebounds, and 12 assists to spark visiting Memphis.