If the Boston Celtics can end their slump, the one remaining playoff spot in the Eastern Conference could be theirs to claim.
The Celtics, the leaders in the race for the East’s final postseason berth, look to end a two-game skid when they meet the New Orleans Hornets.
Boston is two games ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers for eighth place in the East, but has lost three of its last four. On Wednesday, the New York Knicks became the seventh team in East to clinch a playoff berth.
The Celtics and 76ers each have four games remaining. Philadelphia hosts the Washington Wizards on Friday.
“We’ve still got to win a couple of games to get in, so our work is not done yet,” Celtics forward Paul Pierce said.
Pierce had 31 points, but missed what would have been a go-ahead 3-pointer with 10 seconds remaining in a 116-107 loss to the Miami Heat on Wednesday.
Pierce was 10-for-10 from the foul line in the first half, but his teammates were a combined 5-for-8.
New Orleans, which has clinched a playoff berth, is trying to sweep the season series with Boston for the first time since 2000-01.
The Hornets were without three of their top scorers in a 105-91 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday.
With Baron Davis, David Wesley, Jamal Mashburn and Courtney Alexander watching in street clothes, New Orleans finished a five-game West Coast trip by dropping into sixth place in the East, a half-game behind Miami.
Wesley missed the game with a sprained left big toe. The Hornets’ second-leading scorer at 13.8 points per game, Wesley was hurt Jan. 15 and missed 20 games with the injury. He has been playing in pain since returning March 1, but wasn’t able to suit up for the final game of the trip.
Davis, the NBA’s fifth-leading scorer, missed his seventh straight game with a sprained left ankle. Davis was hurt March 23, and the Hornets are 1-5 since.
Mashburn (right knee) and Alexander (right Achilles’) are on the injured list.
All-Star Jamaal Magloire had 20 points, 13 rebounds and eight turnovers before fouling out for the Hornets, who lost for the 12th time in 13 road games.
STANDINGS (through April 7): Celtics - 4th place, 10 1/2 GB, Atlantic Division. Hornets - 4th place, 19 1/2 GB, Central Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Celtics - Pierce, 23.1 ppg and 5.1 apg; Blount, 7.0 rpg. Hornets - Davis, 23.0 ppg and 7.6 apg; Magloire, 10.2 rpg.
SEASON SERIES: Hornets, 3-0.
LAST MEETING: Dec. 31; Hornets, 96-94. At Boston, Davis had 29 points and 10 assists to lead New Orleans.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Celtics - 17-22 on the road; Hornets - 24-15 at home.
INJURIES: Celtics - F-C Raef LaFrentz (knee). Hornets - F Mashburn (knee); G Alexander (Achilles’).