The New Orleans Hornets are jockeying for position in the Western Conference standings and face a tough challenge ahead with the Boston Celtics set to invade the Big Easy tonight.
New Orleans will close out a five-game homestand and improved to 3-1 on the residency with Wednesday's 100-95 triumph over the Phoenix Suns fueled by Chris Paul's 26 points, nine assists and five rebounds. Emeka Okafor added 16 points and 11 boards for the Hornets, who have won five of seven games and improved to 24-10 at New Orleans Arena.
"It was very important. This is a team that is right there in the playoff hunt with us," Paul said of the win. "We needed to show ourselves that we can beat them because we play these guys again in about a week."
Paul is averaging 28.7 points, 11.3 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 5.0 steals in his last three games. David West collected 16 points and nine rebounds in a winning effort. The Hornets are percentage points behind Portland for sixth in the conference standings and 1 1/2 games in back of Denver for fifth.
Following this evening's game with Boston, the Hornets will hit the road for three games out west against the Jazz, Suns and Lakers. They have scored 100 points in three straight games
Boston has been struggling lately and suffered its fourth loss in six tries after Friday's 93-77 setback at Houston in the opener of a three-game road trip. Jeff Green led the Celtics with 17 points off the bench while Glen Davis chipped in 16 points and seven rebounds in defeat.
"We are discouraged with how we played on the defensive end," said Celtics veteran Paul Pierce, who scored 10 points. "We have to wake up as a team and decide if we want to play Celtic defense or not."
The Atlantic Division-leading and playoff-bound Celtics, who will also visit New York and own a 19-13 mark as the guest, are still just a half-game behind Chicago for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls lost in Indiana last night.
Boston is winless in its last three road games and dropped an 83-81 decision to New Orleans on Dec. 31 this season at TD Garden. Paul scored 20 points and handed out 11 assists in that one for the Hornets, who have won six of nine meetings with the Celtics in the Big Easy.