The New Orleans Hornets have been fading out of the playoff picture for the past three weeks. This next week will probably go a long way in determining their postseason fate.
In the midst of their longest road losing streak in more than three years, the slumping Hornets look to avoid losing for the ninth time in 11 games when they open a five-game road trip against the Phoenix Suns on Sunday night.
New Orleans’ playoff hopes seemed to take a major hit when the team announced at the end of January that Chris Paul(notes) would be out at least a month with a left knee injury. The Hornets (32-34) slipped a little with the absence of their All-Star point guard, but were still just one game back of eighth-place Portland in the Western Conference on Feb. 21.
They’ve since fallen well off the playoff pace.
New Orleans has lost eight of 10 to drop seven games behind the Trail Blazers for the final playoff spot. The Hornets got 30 points from David West(notes) on Friday against Northwest Division-leading Denver - his second straight 30-point game - but the team ran out of steam down the stretch and lost 102-95.
“I thought we were very strong throughout most of the game but of course there are problem areas that we need to work on as with every game,” coach Jeff Bower said. “We are definitely going to learn and grow from this game and make sure we apply what we have learned into the next game coming up.”
It won’t be easy with a difficult portion of the schedule looming for New Orleans, which will be without primary reserve James Posey(notes) (flu) for a second straight game. Posey did not travel with the team to Phoenix, and his status for Monday is uncertain.
After playing Phoenix (40-26), the Hornets visit the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday, Golden State on Wednesday, Denver the following day and Utah on Saturday.
New Orleans has had no luck on the road lately, being outscored by an average of 11.7 points in losing their last six away from New Orleans, their longest road skid since dropping seven in a row Dec. 8-30, 2006.
The Hornets are allowing an average of 108.5 points on 51.1 percent shooting during this road skid, and they’re about to face a Phoenix team that averages a league-best 109.3 points.
The Suns are coming off a rare home loss, falling to the Lakers 102-96 on Friday. Amare Stoudemire had 29 points and 16 rebounds for Phoenix, which rallied from 15 down in the second half and led briefly early in the fourth before the defending champs pulled ahead for good.
“We played hard and did a good job, but we just couldn’t quite get over the hump,” coach Alvin Gentry said.
The Suns should have better luck against a Hornets team that has struggled on defense and is 10-25 when allowing at least 100 points
Phoenix has reached triple digits in 57 of 66 games this season, including all three against New Orleans. The Suns have won two of those games, and defeated the Hornets 124-104 in the only meeting in Phoenix on Nov. 11, as eight Suns reached double figures.