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Hornets soar on new home debut

2006-07-28 16:39

  The New Orleans Hornets felt right at home in Oklahoma City, and the San Antonio Spurs picked up where they left off last season. Opening night in the National Basketball Association on Tuesday featured four games, including the Hornets' first “home” game in Oklahoma City, a championship ceremony in San Antonio, Maurice Cheeks' return to Philadelphia and a thrilling rematch of last year's conference semifinals between the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns.

  Uprooted from Louisiana by Hurricane Katrina, the Hornets are playing 35 regular-season home games at the Ford Center and may return to their home city next season after the New Orleans Arena is repaired.

  A sellout crowd of more than 19,000 was on hand in Oklahoma City to see the Hornets rout the visiting Sacramento Kings 93-67.

  “We're a young team, so we feed off the crowd easily,” said J R Smith, who had 19 points in the victory. “It's a great city, full of great fans.”

  The Spurs put the final touch on last season's championship with a ring ceremony and the unveiling of a new banner in the SBC Center. One by one, the Spurs were handed custom-made, diamond-studded rings before the 102-91 win over the Denver Nuggets.

  Michael Finley scored 11 of his 16 points during a four-minute span of the fourth quarter to help the Spurs win.

  “A lot has changed in the last year, but the game of basketball has remained the same,” said Finley, who played the past eight years in Dallas, which beat Phoenix 111-108 in double-overtime. “I put myself in a position where I'm very happy, very comfortable. I'm just going out there and playing.”

  While the Spurs were celebrating their second title in three seasons, Oklahoma City welcomed the displaced Hornets with a street party featuring live bands, jugglers, face-painters and interactive NBA events.

  The Hornets got a standing ovation when they ran onto the court for pre-game warmups to the words: “Here come your Hornets!”

  Mayor Mick Cornett and Hornets owner George Shinn then addressed the crowd.

  “We are so pleased to have the Hornets in Oklahoma City,” Cornett said. “And to the citizens of New Orleans, you are in our thoughts and our prayers, and we wish you a speedy recovery.”

  Philadelphia opened its season with a 108-117 overtime loss to the visiting Milwaukee Bucks that spoiled the return of Cheeks in his Philadelphia coaching debut. One of the most popular players in franchise history, Cheeks has a retired No. 10 jersey and a 1983 championship banner hanging in the rafters.

  The Sixers brought back former teammates Julius Erving, Moses Malone and former assistant coach Chuck Daly to support Cheeks' Philadelphia homecoming.

  “All the emotion is gone now,” Cheeks said. “This was not the way I wanted get the season started.”

  While Cheeks and Bucks coach Terry Stotts made their debuts, it was only part of a sideline makeover: With a new dress code in effect, injured players such as Philadelphia forwards Michael Bradley and Shavlik Randolph donned suits for the occasion.

  Andrew Bogut, the NBA's No. 1 draft pick who was college player of the year at Utah last season, started for the Bucks and had 13 points and nine rebounds. T J Ford, who sat out last season after undergoing cervical spine surgery, had 16 points, 14 assists, and nine rebounds.

  Michael Redd hit the tying 3-pointer in regulation and scored 30 points for Milwaukee.

  Allen Iverson scored 35 points and had nine assists, and Chris Webber added 32 points and 14 rebounds for the Sixers.

  In Phoenix, Arizona, Dirk Nowitzki scored 28 points and grabbed 15 rebounds and Dallas erased a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Suns.

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