Houston (41-37) at New Orleans (44-33)

By MATT BEARDMORE, STATS Writer Wednesday, Apr 6, 2011 Tipoff: 8:00 pm EDT Wed Apr 6, 2011

With a busy upcoming stretch to end the regular season, the New Orleans Hornets would like to clinch a spot in the postseason as soon as possible.

They’ll get that chance Wednesday night at home where they’ll face the Houston Rockets, who would be on the brink of playoff elimination with a second straight defeat.

The Hornets (44-33), who play their final five games over the next eight days, need only a victory over the ninth-place Rockets (41-37) to ensure their return to the postseason following a one-year absence.

Fortunately for New Orleans, Chris Paul(notes) will be in the lineup to try to help the club accomplish that goal. The All-Star point guard suffered an apparent left knee injury in Sunday’s 108-96 victory over Indiana after colliding with Jeff Foster(notes) and crumbling to the floor.

“I’m good,” said Paul, who finished with 18 points and eight assists. “Scared me, too. I knocked knees, but I’m all right.”

The loss of Paul, fourth in the league with 9.8 assists per game, would have been devastating for a Hornets team already without forward David West(notes), who suffered a season-ending ACL tear against Utah on March 24.

Former Rocket Carl Landry(notes) has filled in nicely since West’s injury, averaging 20.2 points and 6.4 rebounds in five games.

“Sometimes you’re stuck in the old team’s habits, and we’re just trying to do our best to keep (Landry) abreast of what we’re doing and bringing him along,” said center Emeka Okafor(notes), averaging 12.7 points and 12.7 boards in three games versus Houston this season.

Landry had 13 points off the bench in a 91-89 home loss to the Rockets on Feb. 27, his second game after being acquired from Sacramento.

New Orleans had won the previous five meetings in this Southwest Division rivalry, including two in Houston this season.

Another Hornets victory would do serious damage to the Rockets’ slim playoff hopes.

If Houston loses, it will have to win its final three games and eighth-place Memphis would have to lose its remaining four for the Rockets to earn the final playoff spot.

Houston had a chance to move within two games of the Grizzlies, who fell one-half game behind New Orleans with Tuesday’s 82-81 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, but coach Rick Adelman’s team fell 104-101 to Sacramento, snapping a seven-game home winning streak.

It was a step back for the Rockets, who had won 15 of 20 since the All-Star break/

“From the tipoff, we just seemed to not have our energy that we had for the last couple of months,” Kevin Martin(notes) said after scoring 30 points. “It’s a bad time of year to not play like you’ve been playing for the last couple of months. For whatever reason, we just looked really tired in a lot of spurts.”

Martin hasn’t looked tired, scoring 30 points or more in three straight. He hit four 3-pointers and finished with 33 points Feb. 27 to help Houston rally from a 16-point second-half deficit.

The Rockets haven’t beaten the Hornets twice on the road in one season since 2004-05.

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