Mardi Gras trip could be pivotal in race

Monday, February 28, 2011
By: Jim Eichenhofer,

By the time the Hornets (35-26) conclude their five-game, seven-day Mardi Gras road trip a week from today, they’ll only have 16 games remaining on their regular season schedule. Depending on the outcomes of visits to Toronto, New York, Memphis, Cleveland and Chicago, the Hornets could be anywhere in the Western Conference standings from fourth place to 10th, or somewhere in between. They’re currently in fifth, but narrowly in front of Denver and Portland.

New Orleans’ opposition on the five-game trek is a combination of teams that are already realistically out of playoff contention (Toronto, Cleveland), clubs that are vying for postseason berths and have notched some impressive victories lately (New York, Memphis), as well as one of the NBA’s premier squads (Chicago). Four of the opponents are from the Eastern Conference, where the Hornets have thrived so far in 2010-11. New Orleans is 17-7 against the East, but just 18-19 vs. the stronger West. Following this trip, the Hornets will only have two more games against the East (March 19 vs. Boston, April 3 vs. Indiana).

Heading into the team’s longest road trip of the season, checking in to see what national websites had to say about the Hornets this week in power rankings: (16th, down 1 spot): “The Hornets beat the Clippers without Emeka Okafor and the Wolves without David West. But with both of them back (and Chris Paul shooting 2-for-12), New Orleans lost to the Rockets on Sunday. The Hornets’ defense, which was terrible before the break, has returned to form, but they begin a tough five-game trip on Tuesday.” (13th, up 1 spot): “If you’re missing your daily dose of superstar speculation that was a staple of the six months leading up to the trade deadline, fear not. You only have to wait until Wednesday night, when CP3 makes his solitary MSG stop.”

Sporting (13th, same as previous week): “Before he was shipped to Sacramento by Houston last year, F Carl Landry was a Sixth Man of the Year candidate. He can get back into that role in New Orleans.”