Just when it seemed the New Orleans Hornets had faded out of the playoff picture, they have put themselves back in the hunt.
This game might not help their cause.
New Orleans takes a three-game winning streak to The Palace of Auburn Hills, where the Detroit Pistons are a league-best 33-3 this season.
Though the Hornets have to visit the owner of the NBA’s best record, the good news is the team they’re chasing for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference also has a tough road game on Tuesday. The Sacramento Kings, seeded eighth with a two-game lead over ninth-place New Orleans, face a Dallas Mavericks team which is 31-6 at home.
It seemed New Orleans’ shot at making the postseason had all but disappeared with a recent 1-12 stretch, but the team has responded with three straight wins.
Two of those victories were on the road, including Sunday’s 120-113 double-overtime win over the Toronto Raptors.
Rookie Chris Paul had 24 points, 12 assists and 12 rebounds for his first career triple-double to lead the Hornets. He scored seven points in the second overtime and hit a key 3-pointer that gave New Orleans a 111-103 lead with 3 minutes left.
“This is huge for our confidence. We’re in a tough situation right now where we are trying to fight for the eighth spot in the playoffs,” Paul said. “We knew we had Detroit coming up so we really needed this one.”
Team scoring leader David West returned to score 23 points after missing three games with a sprained ankle.
Others picked up the slack without West in the lineup.
Paul has led the Hornets with 21.0 points, 8.3 rebounds and 8.0 assists per game during the win streak. This stretch also has seen Marc Jackson and Rasual Butler account for 36.0 points per game, more than double their combined season average.
Seven of the Hornets’ remaining 10 games are against playoff contenders, including an April 16 matchup in Sacramento.
Playing in Detroit is the ultimate challenge, as the Pistons have won 19 of their last 20 home games. Their only loss in that stretch came on March 26 to New Jersey, 79-74.
New Orleans does catch a break, however, because Detroit will be playing without Rasheed Wallace.
The All-Star forward was given an automatic one-game suspension Monday, a day after being called for his 16th technical foul of the season.
“I don’t care about No. 16,” Wallace said. “I’m just going to be cheering from home.”
The Pistons held the Phoenix Suns to 18 fourth-quarter points Sunday for a 109-102 come-from-behind victory.
Chauncey Billups scored 35 points against reigning league MVP Steve Nash and hit a 3-pointer with 3:40 left to put the Pistons ahead. That performance may have boosted Billups’ hopes for this season’s MVP honors.
“I think I made a good case,” Billups said. “It would mean a lot. Not as much as another championship, but it means a lot to even be mentioned.”
The Pistons won for the eighth time in nine games and secured home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs. They are two games ahead of San Antonio for the best record in the NBA.
Detroit needs to win five of its final nine games to break the single-season franchise record, set in 1988-89 when the team finished 63-19 en route to the first of back-to-back NBA titles.