The Detroit Pistons and New Orleans Hornets are two of the best teams in their respective conferences, but while the Pistons have already clinched a playoff spot, nothing is guaranteed for the Hornets in the tight Western Conference race.
The two face off Sunday in Detroit, with New Orleans (44-20) hoping to have David West back after he left the previous game because of an ankle injury.
West and point guard Chris Paul were both injured in the Hornets’ 108-98 win over the Lakers on Friday. West, who had 12 points and 14 rebounds, left the game midway through the fourth quarter after injuring his right ankle.
The forward had missed three games last week due to a sprained left ankle, but the Hornets won two of those games. West is second on the team in scoring and rebounding with 19.7 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.
Paul, who finished with 27 points and 17 assists, hurt his ankle driving to the basket with 2:31 left, but did finish the game. West is a game-time decision for New Orleans, but Paul expects to play as the Hornets seek their sixth win in seven games.
The All-Star guard is averaging 27.5 points his last six games.
“He’s been playing great,” coach Byron Scott said. “What else can you say? … I might be a little biased, but I think he is the MVP. I think what he brings to this team and what he means to this team is obvious on the numbers that he’s putting up.”
Paul and the Hornets are in a tight battle with Los Angeles and Houston for the best record in the Western Conference, but the top nine teams in the West are separated by only a handful of games. New Orleans, which hasn’t made the postseason since 2004, is looking for its third consecutive win over one of last season’s playoff teams after beating San Antonio on Wednesday.
“We won two games, it’s a big win for us, but now we have a tough one in Detroit so we’ve got to take it for what it is,” Paul said. “When we win these games it’s not like we won the NBA Finals. It’s just another win and we’ve got to keep it going.”
The Pistons (47-18) were one of the few teams to contain Paul, limiting him to 14 points on 4-of-14 shooting in a 91-76 victory at New Orleans on Dec. 5. It was just one of 11 games Paul has scored less than 15 points.
Detroit (47-18) has won three of four and eight of 11 overall, including an 84-80 victory over the Spurs on Friday.
Detroit is in second place in the Eastern Conference behind Boston. The Pistons clinched a playoff spot early this week, becoming the second NBA team to guarantee themselves a spot in the postseason.
Sunday’s game against the Hornets is the second of three straight games against Western Conference playoff contenders. On Tuesday, the Pistons play Denver, which is ninth in the West.
“It is definitely a good time, especially since each of these teams are fighting for a spot in the playoffs as far as positioning,” Prince said. “So definitely this is a challenge for us, especially with this game tonight and the next few games we have so hopefully we continue to play the way we are playing.”
The Pistons have won six of the last seven between the teams, but New Orleans snapped a three-game road losing streak at Detroit with a 100-99 victory Nov. 15, 2006.