After years of frustration, the New Orleans Hornets are enjoying quite a renaissance, as they're battling for first place in the highly competitive Western Conference. The New Jersey Nets, meanwhile, are in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in seven years, as they continue to struggle in the mediocre Eastern Conference.

The Hornets look to win their third straight game and beat the struggling Nets at home for the first time in nearly five years when they meet Friday.

New Orleans (41-19) hasn't made the playoffs since its final season in the East in 2003-04, but that will likely change this season. The Hornets have already surpassed their win total from 2006-07 (39), and are in second place in the Southwest Division, just back of the top spot in the West.

New Orleans is coming off one of its more complete victories of the season, 116-101 over Atlanta on Wednesday - its fourth win in five games. The Hornets matched a franchise record with 15 3-pointers, and also had 35 assists to just nine turnovers.

"It was a great overall game. Everybody contributed. We looked good out there," said Tyson Chandler, who had 14 points and 16 rebounds. "The last couple of games we've played some good basketball. We had (David West) go out and a lot of guys stepped up, so that's great to see."

West, who is averaging 19.7 points, missed Wednesday's game with a sore left ankle and is listed as day-to-day.

Fellow All-Star Chris Paul had 23 points and 18 assists with just one turnover on Wednesday, and is averaging 24.0 points, 16.3 assists and 1.0 turnovers during New Orleans' three-game home winning streak.

Paul lifted the Hornets to an 84-82 victory over New Jersey (26-35) on Nov. 12, as he made the tiebreaking layup with 2.6 seconds left. Paul finished with 27 points and seven assists, and is averaging 23.7 points and 10.0 assists in his last three games against the Nets.

Prior to this season, the Hornets had lost seven of their last eight games to the Nets, and they have dropped four straight home meetings since a 106-97 win on April 2, 2003.

The Nets, meanwhile, have lost 13 of 15 away from the Meadowlands, and are coming off a disappointing loss to the worst team on their five-game trek through the Southwest.

After opening the road trip with an 81-70 loss at San Antonio on Tuesday, New Jersey lost to lowly Memphis 100-93 on Wednesday.

"We weren't picking one game. We came up here to win all of them,'' said Vince Carter, who finished with 12 points against the Grizzlies. "I didn't really care who it was. Our goal was to win as many as possible to move ourselves up the playoff ladder. I didn't want to go 1-4 (on the trip), I wanted to go 5-0."

Losing all five games seems realistic, though, as the Nets travel to Dallas and Houston following this contest.

Despite Wednesday's loss, New Jersey still holds the East's eighth playoff spot. The Nets have not missed the playoffs since 2000-01.

Carter missed the game against the Hornets in November with a right ankle sprain, but is averaging 30.2 points in his last six games versus them.

Devin Harris started in his second game on Wednesday since coming to New Jersey in a Feb. 19 trade with Dallas for Jason Kidd. Harris scored 20 points and had eight assists, and is averaging 18.8 points and 5.5 assists in four games with the Nets.


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