The surging New Orleans Hornets look to stay hot coming out of the All-Star break when they face the Charlotte Bobcats on Tuesday night in the first of three straight games against sub-.500 opponents.

The Hornets (25-28) are 9-3 in their last 12 games, although that mark could have been even better. All three defeats came against teams with losing records, the most recent a 108-104 loss last Tuesday to the club with the worst mark in the West - Memphis.

New Orleans followed that up with a 110-93 victory over Sacramento on Wednesday before heading the break. The Hornets shot 57.7 percent (45-for-78) against the Kings after making only 39.8 percent (41-for-103) the previous night.

"I'm happy about the game and excited about the win and the break," New Orleans coach Byron Scott said. "The mystery continues when we come back (losing to lesser teams) and it is just a matter of trying to solve that. We will see how it goes with 29 (games) left."

The Hornets hope they can continue to roll toward their first playoff appearance since 2003-04. They are tied with the Los Angeles Clippers for ninth place in the West, a half-game behind eighth-place Minnesota.

Following the visit to Charlotte (19-33), the Hornets play at New Jersey (25-29) on Wednesday before returning home Friday to take on Seattle (20-32).

New Orleans hasn't been at the .500 mark since it was 9-9 on Dec. 8.

"Until we figure out the maturity (factor), we are going to continue to be an up-and-down team," Hornets center Tyson Chandler said.

The Bobcats, another inexperienced team, will be looking to build on Wednesday's 100-85 win over Chicago that snapped a season high-tying four-game slide.

"When we have a game like this, we show what we can do," Charlotte's Emeka Okafor said. "We kind of tease ourselves sometimes. But all-in-all, besides the four-game slide we had, we're playing pretty good ball."

Okafor and Charlotte are in last place in the Southeast Division, but the Bobcats have won three of their last four home games.Gerald Wallace has been the key during that stretch with 31.3 points per game, including 32 against the Bulls.

The forward, though, missed all five shots and scored one point in a 94-85 loss to New Orleans on Nov. 14. Okafor led the Bobcats with 25 points and 16 rebounds.

Peja Stojakovic lifted the Hornets to that victory with a career-high 42 points, but the swingman is still out after undergoing back surgery in November. He's expected to miss his 41st consecutive game since hurting his back Nov. 24 in a loss to Minnesota.


Copyright 2006 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited