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Gordon, Hornets deal blow to Jazz playoff hopes

Associated Press

4/13/2012 11:14:45 PM

NEW ORLEANS -- Eric Gordon crouched near the 3-point line, dribbling between his legs, again and again, all but lulling Utah's Gordon Hayward into a trance.

The moment Hayward appeared sufficiently mesmerized, Gordon stepped back and made a 23-foot jumper, punctuating a game-changing performance against a Jazz squad that needed to win a lot worse than the Hornets did.

Gordon scored 10 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter, and New Orleans won its first game under prospective new owner Tom Benson, 96-85 over Utah on Friday night.

"I just love those situations in the fourth quarter," Gordon said. "The second half is the toughest part of the game. ... We play hard defensively and keep the game close and I try to take over those games when it's late in the fourth quarter."

Chris Kaman added 19 points as the Hornets won for the third time in four games while delivering a critical loss to the Jazz, who entered the night 1 1/2 games out of the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot.

Hours earlier, Benson, the longtime owner of the NFL's Saints, agreed to buy the Hornets from the NBA, virtually assuring the club's long-term presence in New Orleans. Then Gordon returned from a two-game absence caused by back soreness and delivered a crowd-pleasing performance as the Hornets won their second straight.

"We want to give our fans something to be excited about going into the summer," Hornets coach Monty Williams said.

Paul Millsap scored 27 points for Utah, while Al Jefferson had 19. Derrick Favors added 12 points and 13 rebounds for the Jazz.

Greivis Vasquez and Al-Farouq Aminu each scored 11 points for the Hornets, who shot 55 per cent (38 of 69).

Utah shot 45.2 per cent (33 of 73) and went only 2 of 11 from 3-point range, but still led 82-81 after Jamaal Tinsley's floater in the lane in the middle of the fourth quarter.

New Orleans then stormed ahead for good when Jason Smith's jumper started a 13-0 run. Soon after, Gordon took over -- by design -- as the Hornets drew as many defenders away from Gordon as they could to set him up in isolation with his primary defender.

"Coach said, 'Get away. Go flat.' We were just like, 'OK.' He's that pivotal player where you can give it to him and (Williams) doesn't need a play run for him," Smith said. "That's a rarity in this league. A lot of guys say they go 1-on-1, but he can truly go 1-on-1."

Gordon scored the last seven points of the run on a driving layup through a crowd, a 3-pointer and his step-back jumper over Hayward.

"We just couldn't stop Eric tonight," Hayward said. "We made him take some difficult shots and he was able to knock them down. He's a tough player to guard."

The run gave New Orleans a 94-82 lead with 2:18 to go, and Utah could not recover.

"We had opportunities to win the ball game and get out of here," Jazz coach Ty Corbin said. "We told them at halftime, 'You can't let this team hang around.' They get close at the end and they have guys that are capable of making shots, and that's what happened."

The Hornets led most of the third quarter, when Kaman scored 10 of his points on an array of layups and jump shots as deep as 14 feet. But the gap remained single digits and Utah briefly tied it at 68 on Millsap's fast-break layup. The Hornets scored the next five points on Vasquez's jumper and Landry's three-point play, then Favours threw down a driving dunk to trim New Orleans' lead to 73-70 heading into the final period.

Neither team led by more than seven points in a first half that included nine lead changes and nine ties. Millsap had 14 points in the first quarter. Gordon, returning after a two-game absence because of back soreness, scored 11 in the first half, which ended in a 47-all tie.

NOTES: Fans in the New Orleans Arena clapped when Hornets radio announcer Sean Kelley mentioned the purchase of the club by Benson during his pregame show, which is played over the arena's public address system. ... Smith was called for a technical foul for arguing in the fourth quarter, although Smith later said he was in fact yelling at one of his teammates for being out of position. Williams was called for another for arguing minutes later, and was in fact yelling at an official. ... Utah fell to 10-22 on the road. ... Favours now has 10 double-doubles. ... The Hornets won two of three games against Utah this season.