NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Monty Williams convinced Chris Paul to give the Hornets' new regime a chance, and Paul helped Williams win his debut as a head coach.
Paul had 17 points and 16 assists, and New Orleans held on for a 95-91 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night in the regular season opener for both clubs.
David West led all scorers with 22 points, while new starting shooting guard Marco Belinelli added 18 for New Orleans.
Carlos Delfino hit five 3-pointers and scored 19 points for Milwaukee, which led 72-67 late in the third quarter, but fell behind for good when Peja Stojakovic's 3-pointer, his only basket, put New Orleans up 73-72 soon after.
Andrew Bogut had 15 points and 15 rebounds, but his night was ruined by 3-of-10 shooting on free throws, including six critical misses in the fourth quarter.
During the offseason, Paul had expressed dissatisfaction with the Hornets' lack of competitiveness and said he'd be willing to accept a trade if the Hornets did not demonstrate a commitment to quickly becoming a contender in the tough Western Conference.
New Orleans looked solid against a feisty Bucks squad with playoff expectations in the East. The Hornets led the entire fourth quarter, in large part because Paul closed out the third with a tough floater and 3 at the buzzer to make it 78-72.
Paul also made a clutch pull-up jumper with 2:17 to go in the final period and added a couple free throws with 1:10 left.
Corey Maggette scored 16 for the Bucks. Drew Gooden had 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Brandon Jennings had 15 points and 10 assists.
The game kicked off a new era for the Hornets, who after missing the playoffs last season hired Williams, as well as new general manager Dell Demps. The Hornets then went to work on overhauling their roster with a series of trades that brought in new starters Belinelli and small forward Trevor Ariza.
Ariza had 11 points in his Hornets debut, including a dunk set up by Belinelli to put the Hornets up 90-84 late in the game.
Still, it was the foundation that remained — Paul and West — that led the way. West scored the Hornets' first 10 points of the second half, hitting four jumpers set up by Paul.