NEW ORLEANS - In a city that is in the throes of football mania, a calming basketball presence was just what the people needed.

The streets have been a sea of Michigan blue and Virginia Tech maroon, part of the fanfare from the Sugar Bowl, which was played at the Superdome Tuesday night. Throngs of LSU and Alabama fans are starting to converge around the French Quarter as the BCS Championship game will be held at the Big Dome on Monday. Oh yeah, and the Saints, only 2 years removed from winning a Super Bowl, and perhaps the hottest team in the NFL right now, will host the Detroit Lions on Saturday.

Perhaps the Hornets fed off the excitement as they jumped on the 76ers early, building a lead as big as 14 points in the first half. But the Sixers showed something this city rarely has - calmness - and that helped them to a come-from-behind, 101-93, win.

The Sixers clawed and chipped, eventually taking an 89-83 lead — their largest to that point — when Jrue Holiday drilled a baseline three-pointer with 4 minutes, 17 seconds left. When the Hornets cut the lead to two, Holiday again drilled a trey, this time from the top of the key with 2:36 remaining for a 92-87 lead.

More impressive than the offense though was the Sixers' toughness on the defensive end. During the hectic fourth quarter when stops were necessary, the group of Holiday, Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, Thaddeus Young and Andre Iguodala clamped down, seemingly tipping every pass and shot and getting to just about every loose ball.

Iguodala's monster lefthanded follow slam off a Hawes' missed jumper with 1:30 left put the Sixers ahead 96-89, literally slamming home the team's third victory of the season-opening five-game road trip.

The Sixers were shorthanded at the big-man spot as earlier in the day Marreese Speights was traded, and right before the game it was announced that rookie center Nikola Vucevic would be scratched due to a strained back. Vucevic had been on the floor warming up with teammates and assistant coaches 2 1/2 prior to the game and appeared fine. But about an hour before game time, he gingerly walked into the locker room behind head trainer Jesse Wright.

It didn't help when Hawes, who has been playing terrific basketball thus far this season, picked up his fourth personal foul with 2 minutes, 28 seconds left in the third quarter and the Sixers trailing 64-61. The Hornets, taking advantage of a smaller Sixers lineup, built their lead to 73-67 by the end of the quarter.

But the Sixers kept coming.

Turner (21 points, six rebounds, four assists) continually beat his men to the hoop, Elton Brand (12 points, 12 rebounds) controlled the backboards, and the defense limited the Hornets' penetration to the basket, which was how they had built their big lead.

Holiday led the Sixers (3-2) with 23 points, while Hawes added 17 and seven rebounds. Lou Williams and Young each posted 10 points.

Six shots

Former Sixer greats Julius Erving, Moses Malone, and Bobby Jones will be in attendance at the home opener tomorrow night, which begins at 7 . . . Rookie and Temple product Lavoy Allen suited up for his first NBA game last night. He had been deactivated for the first four games but a spot opened up with the trade of Marreese Speights yesterday . . . Before the game former Sixer Jason Smith said he was starting to feel like he was getting some sort of bug. If he was he didn't show it, scoring nine points in 13 minutes.

For more Sixers coverage, read the Daily News' Sixers blog, Sixerville, at

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