NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- The NOH gathered in front of their bench, wearing ball caps and T-shirts commemorating the first division championship in the franchise's 20-year history.
While the latest sellout crowd roared its approval, they stayed on the court for almost a half-hour to celebrate the moment.
David West scored 32 points and Chris Paul had 12 during a decisive run in the third quarter as the NOH beat the LAC 114-92 on Tuesday night. New Orleans will have the No. 2 seed in the playoffs in the rugged Western Conference after the Los Angeles Lakers won later Tuesday night.
Three seasons after going 18-64, the NOH clinched the rugged Southwest division, which has four 50-win teams.
"A lot of people had us not even getting in the playoffs," New Orleans center Tyson Chandler said. "I don't think any of us believed that. We all believed that we're one of the better teams in the conference. If you win this division it says a lot about the team because this is the best division in basketball."
After losing three of its last four, New Orleans struggled for a half against the reeling LAC before putting them away with 26-6 spurt in the third quarter. The LAC have lost six in a row and are 4-25 in their last 29 games.
NOH coach Byron Scott earned his 300th career victory. The NOH finished 30-11 at home for the third time in franchise history. The club record is 32-9, set in 1997-98, but all those seasons came in Charlotte, their original home.
This was their most significant victory in New Orleans, where they moved for the 2002-03 season and played for three years before Hurricane Katrina forced them to Oklahoma City for all but 10 games during the previous two seasons.
"It's a big step for us," West said. "We just talked about wanting to improve and being one of the elite teams, and I think we kind of validated ourselves with the ability to come into a tough season and win the toughest division in basketball."
Trailing 56-51 after Cuttino Mobley's 3-pointer early in the third quarter, the NOH scored 12 of the next 14 points to take the lead for good, then pulled away quickly.
Paul started the run with a lay-up off a LAC turnover. Peja Stojakovic, who missed his first six 3-pointers, hit two in a row to give New Orleans a 63-58 lead. Paul followed with four consecutive baskets to extend the advantage to 71-62, and Morris Peterson gave the NOH their first double-digit lead, 74-62, on a 3-pointer with 3:11 left in the quarter.
Sixteen seconds later, Chandler was fouled on a dunk and hit the free throw, making the score 77-62.
"We definitely came out in the third quarter and picked up the intensity defensively," Paul said. "We can do that every night if we really put our mind to it. That's the only way we're going to be successful in the playoffs."
New Orleans led by at least 12 the rest of the way and poured it on in the fourth quarter, going ahead by as many as 31.
Paul finished with 22 points and 12 assists, while Chandler added 11 points and 11 rebounds. Rookie Julian Wright scored all 14 of his points in the fourth quarter, including a thunderous dunk.
Rookie Al Thornton led the LAC with 26 points. Corey Maggette contributed 13 off the bench.
"We were in it until the second half, when Chris Paul broke us down a little bit and we didn't have an answer for that," said the LAC' Elton Brand, playing only his seventh game since returning from a ruptured Achilles' tendon that sidelined him before the season. "We tried different defensive schemes, but he's a heck of a player."
West got 20 points on 7-of-8 shooting in the first quarter, but received little help from his teammates as the NOH trailed 51-49 at the half.
New Orleans, the third-most accurate 3-point team in the NBA, hit only 2-of-13 from beyond the arc in the first half.
Thornton had 11 points in the first quarter for the LAC, who connected on 4-of-5 3-pointers in the opening half.
"Needless to say, at halftime I was not very happy," Scott said. "We were allowing them to get pretty much everything they wanted. Watching the tape, I think they understood my point. Luckily in the second half we came out and played much better."