NEW ORLEANS -- Ron Artest could not have started any worse or finished much better.
Artest missed his first 11 shots, nine in the first half, but hit four tough shots in a row as the Rockets rallied back to take the lead from an 11-point deficit in the third quarter.
"When you play in this league against many, many good players, you kind of pick up things and learn how to get through situations like that," Artest said. "Sometimes you're going to have a first half like that, and that's why you have a team and we still win by 12 [actually 11]. That just shows what type of team we have."
"We lost one that we should have won," Paul said. "They got just about everything they wanted in the second half with layups and free throws and that's what hurt us."
Yao sat out with flu-like symptoms and 42-year-old Dikembe Mutombo, playing in only his fifth game this season, started in his place.
Mutombo scored only one point on a free throw but had six rebounds and blocked Hornets swingman Julian Wright three times on drives to the hoop, wagging his finger every time.
Mutombo said there was a practical purpose to the finger-wagging beyond showing anyone up.
"I've got to stop and take a breath," he said, smirking. "I'm old. I don't need to be running up and down."
The Hornets, who led 47-43 at halftime, appeared to be taking control of the game when alley-oop dunks by Wright and Tyson Chandler highlighted an 8-0 run to give New Orleans a 55-44 lead in the third quarter. Houston coach Rick Adelman called timeout, and the Rockets returned in far better form.
Artest got his first points on free throws and then made his next four shots and added an assist on Scola's driving scoop during a 16-2 spurt that put Houston ahead 62-59.
New Orleans got only five points the rest of the quarter, all from Paul, whose floater as he was fouled cut Houston's lead to 67-64 heading into the final period.
James Posey's 3 to open the fourth quarter tied the game, and the Hornets led 75-73 on Posey's baseline drive with 7:01 to go.
Houston responded with an 8-0 run during which Landry swatted away Paul's floater and later hit two free throws. Artest also scored on a finger roll during the surge.
"There's nobody at my position that can keep me from getting to the basket, so I have to keep that in mind," Artest said. "Tonight, I should have gotten to the hole a little earlier."
After West's jumper briefly stopped to run, Artest scored again on a driving layup and Landry dunked on a fast break to make it 85-77 with 3:47 left. The Hornets were stagnant after that, and Chandler fouled out while battling Landry for a rebound with 1:18 to go.
Despite the absence of Yao, Houston finished with a 38-37 edge in rebounding and outscored New Orleans 27-19 at the free-throw line.
"We can play without whoever," Landry said. "But it helps that everybody's ready when they have the opportunity to play."
Chandler said his left ankle, which kept him out for a month earlier this season, is still bothering him. "I just don't feel like my ankle is healed," he said. "It was dragging me out there. ... I'll get some treatment and see how it goes." ... West was called for a technical foul late in the third quarter for gesturing condescendingly at an official after he was called for a foul. ... The Hornets and Rockets split their previous two meetings, with the home team winning each time. ... Hornets shooting guard Rasual Butler had 11 points and has scored in double figures in 10 straight games. ... Houston improved to 17-17 on the road.
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