The New Orleans Hornets suffered a double-digit home loss in their latest game, something they know they can’t do if they hope to earn home-court advantage in the first-round of the Western Conference playoffs.
The New York Knicks’ latest skid, meanwhile, is ensuring they won’t have to worry about the postseason.
The Knicks have dropped six in a row to essentially fall out of the race for the East’s eighth spot, and the Hornets will look to extend New York’s slide Friday night at Madison Square Garden.
New Orleans (44-26) is one of seven teams separated by a total of four games that are fighting for the second through eighth seeds in the West.
The Hornets had won three in a row heading into the finale of their five-game homestand Wednesday against Denver, a team that came in tied with New Orleans in the standings. The Nuggets, though, got 55 combined points from Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups and left Louisiana with a 101-88 win.
“Everything is so close right now that every game is a big game,” said Hornets point guard Chris Paul, who had 19 points and 13 assists. “We’re fine. We would have liked to finish the season 13-0, but it probably wasn’t going to happen.”
Eight of New Orleans’ final 12 games are on the road, and it’ll close with a brutal stretch of seven straight games against above-.500 opponents.
That’s why a win against the reeling Knicks (28-43) could be critical to the Hornets’ chances of grabbing one of the top four spots in the West, and given the way New York has played lately, that doesn’t seem too hard to fathom.
The Knicks looked like they had a realistic shot of sneaking into the East playoffs, as they trailed Chicago and Milwaukee by just one-half game after winning their third in a row on March 13.
Since then, though, New York’s postseason hopes have come crashing down. The Knicks have lost six straight—four at home—including an embarrassing 27-point loss to Sacramento, which hasn’t beaten another East team this season, and most recently a 140-135 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday at MSG.
New York is now six games behind the Bulls and Detroit Pistons, who are tied for seventh.
“We didn’t guard anybody, that’s pretty obvious,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Somehow, somewhere the game’s got to be a little more important than just going out there and playing. We’re just not there.”
The Knicks’ defense has been woeful all season—the 108.6 points per game they allow are the most in the East—but they’ve allowed an average of 115.0 points during the losing streak.
That should be good news for Paul and his teammates, but New Orleans had one of its worst offensive efforts of the season when it hosted New York on Jan. 12. The Hornets shot 38.4 percent and lost 101-95 as David Lee dominated inside, scoring 24 points on 12-of-16 shooting.
Paul averaged 26.6 points and 10.2 assists during New Orleans’ five-game homestand, picking up the slack offensively as Peja Stojakovic has missed the past 11 games with back spasms. Stojakovic, though, could return Friday.
The Hornets’ defensive focus may need to be on Al Harrington, who had 38 points in the loss to the Clippers. Harrington struggled from the field in the Knicks’ win in New Orleans in January, going 6-for-19, but still had 20 points and 10 rebounds.
The Knicks snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Hornets with that victory, but they’ve still lost four straight in the series at MSG.