A two-game losing streak is no reason to panic, but New Orleans (26-23) dropped consecutive home games to start this week that were more critical to the Western Conference playoff race than usual, due to the opposition. As the Hornets attempt to hang in the postseason hunt without the services of All-Star point guard Chris Paul for the next 4-6 weeks, all games against teams like Phoenix and Oklahoma City take on added importance, but particularly home games.
The two-game skein pushed New Orleans to 11th place in the standings and two full games out of eighth place behind the Trail Blazers. A closer look at the race, beginning with fifth-place San Antonio and the teams that are within shouting distance of New Orleans:
5, SAN ANTONIO 28-19 (3 games ahead of New Orleans)
Season series vs. Hornets: Spurs lead 2-0. Remaining games: March 1 at NOLA, March 5 at San Antonio.
The Spurs will be probably be hard-pressed to remain this high in the standings, since their next seven games are all on the road. They visit Portland, the Lakers and Denver all within the next eight days.
6, PHOENIX 30-21 (3 games ahead of New Orleans)
Season series: Suns lead 2-1. Remaining game: March 14 at Phoenix.
All of the sudden, the Suns are one of the hottest teams in the league, winning four in a row, including an impressive streak of road wins at Houston, New Orleans and Denver.
7, OKLAHOMA CITY 28-21 (2 games ahead of New Orleans)
Season series: Tied 1-1. Remaining game: March 10 at Oklahoma City.
The Thunders recent play seems to be disproving any idea that this team would not be able to keep up its plus-.500 record early in the season. OKC has beaten Denver, Atlanta and New Orleans all in the past week.
8, PORTLAND 29-22 (2 games ahead of New Orleans)
Season series: Tied 1-1. Remaining game: March 27 at New Orleans.
It seemed like it would never happen, but the shorthanded nature of the roster finally appears to be catching up with the Trail Blazers, who have lost four of their last five games.
9, HOUSTON 26-22 (0.5 games ahead of New Orleans)
Season series: Tied 1-1. Remaining games: Feb. 21 at NOLA, April 14 at Houston.
Rockets seem to be trending down lately, as evidenced by going just 2-4 on their recent six-game homestand.
10, MEMPHIS 26-22 (0.5 games ahead of New Orleans)
Season series: Hornets lead 2-0. Remaining games: March 3 at NOLA, April 2 at Memphis.
The Grizzlies schedule has been brutal of late, partly resulting in a 1-3 week that was highlighted by a win over the Lakers.
11, NEW ORLEANS 26-23
Conference record: 19-12 (7-11 vs. the East)
Home game vs. Philadelphia tomorrow is last time Hornets will face a sub-.500 opponent until Feb. 19 when Indiana visits.