New Orleans/Oklahoma City 98, Seattle 97 (F)

NEW ORLEANS, Feb 23 (AP)-- Tyson Chandler keeps finding ways to put his 7-foot-1 body in the right spot - and now he's putting the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets back in the thick of the playoff race.

Even though the Hornets shot 37.1 percent, Chandler's 19 rebounds - 10 on the offensive end - helped New Orleans hold on for a 98-97 victory over the Seattle SuperSonics on Friday night.

"The ones he couldn't get he tipped out. He's one of the best in the league in rebounding,'' Seattle's Nick Collison said. "I felt like a lot of times I was in good position between him and the basket, but he just went over my back. There's not a lot you can do on those plays. Maybe yell and scream and hope the ref bails you out, but they didn't do that tonight.''

David West had 23 points and 11 rebounds, and Chandler added 15 points as New Orleans (27-29) moved ahead of idle Golden State (26-29) by a half game for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Chris Paul finished with 13 points and played a crucial role in the final minute. He rebounded Ray Allen's missed jumper, then ran the shot clock down inside of five seconds before darting behind Chandler's screen and hitting a jumper to give New Orleans a 98-94 lead with 38 seconds left.

Rashard Lewis' 3-pointer with 30 seconds to go cut the lead to 98-97. Paul then ran down the clock again, but missed with 6.6 seconds to go, giving Seattle one more chance to win it.

Allen, who led the Sonics with 32 points, took a difficult shot from the left wing at the buzzer, which rimmed out.

"I got the shot I wanted. I'm disappointed obviously it didn't go in,'' Allen said. "We're sitting here in the locker room in a different mood if it does go in. For any great shooter, great scorer, great athlete, you have to be willing to step up and make that great play down the stretch for your team and not worry about failing.''

Allen hit 11 of 20 shots, including five 3-pointers, so the blame could hardly fall on him.

The obvious difference was New Orleans' 26 offensive rebounds, which yielded 25 second-chance points. The Hornets finished with a 56-42 advantage in rebounds overall.

"Coming in, we were really concerned about Chandler's length ... and we couldn't get a rebound,'' Sonics coach Bob Hill said. "I have to be happy about a lot of things that happened out there under the circumstances. Ray was great.''

As was Lewis, finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds. Earl Watson scored 18 for Sonics, who saw their recent winning streak end at three games.

Bobby Jackson scored 17 and Desmond Mason 10 for the Hornets, who weathered early season injuries and have now won 11 of 15 games to get back into playoff contention with 26 games left in the regular season.

Chandler's improved play has been a big part of New Orleans' resurgence. He's had a double-double in points and rebounds in all but one of the Hornets' 11 games this month.

"Tonight showed this team's character,'' Chandler said. "When things are not going your way offensively, you have to create other opportunities for yourself. We were scrappy out there creating offensive rebounds and we did other things to get the win.''

The Hornets led by 11 in the first half, but Seattle chipped away with Watson hitting seven of his first eight shots for 15 points and Allen adding 12, trimming New Orleans' lead to 51-48 at the half.

Allen hit two jump shots and a free throw during an 11-0 Seattle run early in the third quarter that gave the Sonics their largest lead of the game at 61-54.

West then helped the Hornets tie the game at 66 by scoring eight points in a four-minute span before the teams began exchanging 3-pointers.

Allen hit two and Watson one late in the period, while Jackson hit two for the Hornets, the second with 1.5 seconds left in the period, to tie the score at 79 heading into the final quarter.

Notes: Chandler has at least 12 rebounds in each of his last 15 games, the longest such streak in Hornets history. ... Attendance for the game, the fifth of six in New Orleans this season, was announced at 17,961, about 200 short of a sellout. ... Seattle (21-33) has not had a winning streak longer than three games this season.

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