New Orleans (40-31) at Utah (36-36)

By JEFF BARTL, STATS Writer Thursday, Mar 24, 2011 Tipoff: 9:00 pm EDT Thu Mar 24, 2011

The Utah Jazz are nearing the end of a season in which their Hall of Fame coach abruptly resigned, and their star point guard with whom he clashed was traded away.

Now, they’re in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in five seasons - and a growing list of injuries isn’t helping matters.

Banged-up Utah looks to end a three-game skid Thursday night when it hosts the New Orleans Hornets, who are clinging to seventh place in the Western Conference.

Point guard Devin Harris(notes) sat out Wednesday’s 106-94 loss in Oklahoma City with a strained right hamstring, and forward Andrei Kirilenko(notes) missed the second half after suffering a bruised nerve in his left knee. Derrick Favors(notes), who is nursing a sprained left ankle, was active but didn’t play.

Harris and Favors were acquired last month from New Jersey in a blockbuster trade for two-time All-Star Deron Williams(notes).

Earl Watson(notes) started in place of Harris, and scored 10 points. It’s unclear if Harris, Kirilenko or Favors will be available to face the Hornets.

Despite 32 points and 12 rebounds from Al Jefferson(notes), the Jazz (36-36) dropped to .500 for the first time since Nov. 6, and fell four games behind eighth-place Memphis with 10 games remaining.

Utah was tied with the Thunder for the Northwest Division lead as recently as Jan. 20 before starting to falter. Jerry Sloan resigned on Feb. 11 after 23 seasons as coach following a spat with Williams, who was traded less than two weeks later.

The Jazz haven’t missed the playoffs since 2005-06.

“We’re gonna just fight, fight until the end,” Jefferson said. “We have another game (Thursday) and we’re just gonna keep fighting.”

The Hornets (40-31) are dealing with their own struggles down the stretch.

Chris Paul(notes) went without a field goal for only the fourth time in his career Saturday in an 89-85 loss to Boston. Paul’s four points matched a season low set earlier this month against New York.

Paul had averaged 28.7 points while shooting 58.5 percent in the previous three games after sitting out two with a concussion.

“It’s going to be hard for us to win if I play like that,” said Paul, who did have 15 assists. “I’ve got to do better. We lose by four points, and I play like that.”

David West(notes) scored 32 points and Marco Belinelli(notes) added a season-high 23 for the Hornets, who have lost two of three and are just one-half game ahead of the eighth-place Grizzlies.

West scored a game-high 23 points in the most recent meeting with a Jazz, a 100-71 win on Dec. 17 in New Orleans.

Paul had 11 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds in that meeting, while Jefferson was held to only 10 points and three boards.

New Orleans’ latest win ended a four-game losing streak against Utah, which had won 12 of the previous 14. The Hornets have lost eight of nine on the road against the Jazz, including a 105-87 defeat on Nov. 24.

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