The New Orleans Hornets are still hoping to get home-court advantage for a first-round playoff series, but a daunting schedule the rest of the way is going to make that awfully difficult.
The Hornets look to clinch a playoff spot and climb the Western Conference standings Sunday as they open a tough stretch with a matchup against the Utah Jazz, who are trying to end a three-game losing streak and move closer to a postseason berth.
New Orleans (47-28) could have moved into fourth in the West with a win over Golden State on Friday, but a 111-103 loss snapped the Hornets’ three-game winning streak and dropped them to sixth.
With the conference’s top four finishers earning home-court in the opening round, New Orleans is one game back of fourth-place Portland and trails fifth-place Houston by one-half game. With the Trail Blazers and Rockets playing each other Sunday, the Hornets will at least move into a tie for fifth if they beat Utah.
They could have wrapped up a playoff berth with a win Friday - coupled with a Phoenix loss to Sacramento - but too many of their players came out flat and the Suns won.
Chris Paul had 43 points and David West added 31 with 14 rebounds, but none of the their teammates scored more than seven while shooting a combined 26.3 percent from the field. Peja Stojakovic, playing his first game after being sidelined since March 2 because of back spasms, had seven in 25 minutes.
“We just didn’t come out ready to play,” New Orleans coach Byron Scott said. “It’s a bad loss, that’s the bottom line. It’s not a loss that we expected to get but I also expected us to come out with a lot more passion to start the game than we did. We paid the price.”
Things aren’t going to get any easier for the Hornets, who can again clinch a playoff berth with a victory Sunday coupled with a Suns loss to Dallas.
After playing the Jazz (46-30), New Orleans has games remaining against Miami, Phoenix, Houston and San Antonio as well as a home-and-home series with the Mavericks. All of those teams - except the Suns - are in the top eight of their respective conferences.
“It’s going to be tough,” Paul said. “The biggest thing about our team is we just gotta pick up the intensity. We have to get to the point where even our opponents see it in our faces that we mean business.”
Utah also is looking at a tough remaining schedule.
After playing New Orleans, the Jazz still have to visit Dallas, the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio - where they haven’t won in more than 10 years. Winning on the road has not come easy for Utah, which has lost three straight and six of seven away from home.
Utah has won the first two meetings of the season with the Hornets, but both games were in Salt Lake City, where the Jazz have won 22 of 25.
The seventh-place Jazz, who are 1 1/2 games back of New Orleans, had a 15-game home winning streak end Friday with a 103-102 loss to lowly Minnesota. Deron Williams finished with 34 points and 11 assists but missed a potential game-winning shot at the buzzer.
The Jazz built a 15-point first-half lead but struggled down the stretch en route to their third straight loss and seventh in 12 games following a 12-game winning streak.
“We had enough points to win the game,” said Carlos Boozer, who had six points on 1-for-9 shooting Friday. “We just didn’t get enough stops.”
Utah’s defense has really been sluggish lately. It’s allowing an average of 106.3 points in its last 12 after yielding an average of 96.0 points during the winning streak.