The Philadelphia 76ers wasted an opportunity to gain ground in the Eastern Conference leaders on Friday.
They’ll try not to repeat that mistake when they play host to the New Orleans Hornets.
The Sixers, who are 1 1/2 games behind the New Jersey Nets in the race for the top seed in the East, will try to close that gap over their final three games. However, they may have to do it without several important contributors.
Even without Van Horn and Coleman, however, the Sixers felt they squandered an opportunity against the lottery-bound Knicks.
Both the Nets and Detroit Pistons lost on Friday, meaning Philadelphia could have pulled into a tie for the East’s best record with a win.
“They’re not going to the playoffs, so they have nothing to lose,” Sixers guard Allen Iverson, who had 20 points and 11 assists, said of the Knicks. “We have everything to lose. Jersey just lost, and we could have done a lot of things as far as seeding, but coulda, woulda, shoulda, you know?”
New Jersey beat the Toronto Raptors 94-86 on Saturday to increase its lead over Philadelphia to 1 1/2 games.
While the Sixers are trying to make a late push for the East’s top seed, the Hornets will likely finish fifth in the conference. With three games remaining, New Orleans leads the Boston Celtics by 2 1/2 games.
The Hornets have won two straight, including a 93-89 win over the Pistons on Friday. Forward Jamal Mashburn led the Hornets with 20 points and hit a crucial jumper with 21 seconds remaining to put New Orleans up for good.
STANDINGS: Hornets - 3rd place, 4 GB, Central Division. 76ers - 2nd place, 1 1/2 GB, Atlantic Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Hornets - Mashburn, 21.7 ppg; Brown, 9.0 rpg; Davis, 6.6 apg. 76ers - Iverson, 27.3 ppg; Thomas, 8.0 rpg; Snow, 6.7 apg.
SEASON SERIES: Tied, 1-1.
LAST MEETING: Nov. 25; 76ers, 108-87. At Philadelphia, Iverson scored 29 points, shooting 11-of-20 from the field and 7-of-9 from the line to lead the Sixers to their eighth straight home win. Todd MacCulloch added 15 points for Philadelphia. Mashburn led the Hornets with 18.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Hornets - 16-23 on the road; 76ers - 24-15 at home.
INJURIES: Hornets - G Kenny Anderson (Achilles’); F Kirk Haston (back); G Bryce Drew (calf). 76ers - C Coleman (quadriceps); F Sam Clancy (knee); C Samuel Dalembert (knee); C MacCulloch (feet); F Van Horn (foot).