With just 4 1/2 games separating the top eight teams in the Western Conference, the New Orleans Hornets cannot afford to go on a losing streak - or play for any period of time without either of their top two scorers.
Looking to avoid consecutive losses for the first time in nearly month, and with Chris Paul and David West ailing, the Hornets play host to the Chicago Bulls on Monday night.
New Orleans (44-21) is second in the Southwest Division, 1 1/2 games behind surging Houston, which owns an improbable 22-game winning streak. The Hornets also are being chased in their own division by San Antonio and Dallas, but a bigger concern is the remainder of the West. Golden State, which owns the eighth and playoff spot, is only three games in back of the third-place Hornets.
Byron Scott's club suffered their largest margin of defeat since Feb. 4 after falling 105-84 at Detroit on Sunday. Hobbled by a sore left ankle, Paul still played more than 39 minutes and finished with 14 points and 14 assists.
?I definitely couldn?t attack like I wanted to,? said Paul, who leads the Hornets with 20.6 points and 10.9 assists per game. ?But that?s no excuse. I felt as long as I was out on the court, I could help our team.?
In five career games against Chicago, Paul is averaging 20.8 points and 11.2 assists. In his last home game against the Bulls on Dec. 1, 2006, Paul put up 25 and 18 in a 111-108 loss.
Against the Pistons, though, New Orleans was again without West, who averages 19.4 points. He's missed four of the Hornets' last six games with ankle injuries and his status for Monday's game is not known.
Paul and West were key in New Orleans' 100-86 win over the Bulls on Feb. 12 in Chicago. West scored 27 before fouling out and Paul finished with 25 and 14 assists. Tyson Chandler, a former first-round pick by Chicago, pulled down 16 rebounds.
The Hornets are looking to match a season-high with their seventh straight home win. They're also trying to avoid losing back-to-back games for the first time since a season-high three-game skid from Feb. 22-25.
Chicago (26-39) is in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, but only 1 1/2 games behind Atlanta and New Jersey for the last playoff spot and a likely first-round matchup with league-leading Boston.
A 110-106 loss to Philadelphia on Thursday was the Bulls' third in four games and came after squandering an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter in which they allowed 40.
?It?s like we got caught in quicksand in the fourth quarter,? said Chicago forward Drew Gooden, who finished with 16 points and a team-high nine rebounds. Luol Deng had a team-high 21 points and Thabo Sefolosha came off the bench to score 20.
The Bulls are looking to snap a three-game road losing streak. They have just one win in their last eight games away from Chicago, where they are 11-23 this season.
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