Hornets sixth in West, but not far from third

Tuesday, March 17, 2009
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

With four weeks remaining in the regular season, here is an update on the Western Conference playoff race, with breakdowns of where each contender is in relation to the Hornets. Check Hornets.com on periodic Hornets off days over the rest of the regular season for updates on another chaotic West postseason chase:

WESTERN CONFERENCE
1, L.A. Lakers 53-13, 12 games ahead of New Orleans
Season series vs. Hornets: Lakers won 3-1.
L.A. should have the West's No. 1 seed wrapped up by the end of this month.

2, San Antonio 44-22, 3 games ahead of New Orleans
Series: Tied 1-1. San Antonio visits New Orleans on March 31; New Orleans is in San Antonio on April 15, the final day of the regular season.
Favorable upcoming schedule. Next four games are at home for Spurs, including critical Sunday matchup vs. Houston.

3, Houston 44-25, 1.5 games ahead of New Orleans
Series: Rockets lead 2-1. New Orleans visits Houston on April 13.
Houston will have to come up with more impressive road wins like Monday’s in NOLA in order to remain this high in the West standings. Among their next seven games, Rockets are at Spurs, at Jazz, at Suns and at Lakers.

4, Denver 43-25, 1 game ahead of New Orleans
Series: Hornets lead 2-1. Denver visits New Orleans on March 25.
In terms of winning the Northwest Division, Nuggets have a very difficult, potentially make-or-break three-game road trip March 23-27 that includes stops in Phoenix, New Orleans and Dallas.

5, Portland 42-25, 0.5 games ahead of New Orleans
Series: Tied 2-2. However, it’s virtually guaranteed that New Orleans would win a tiebreaker vs. Portland, based on a superior conference record.
Seven of next 11 games are on the road for Trail Blazers, where they’re 14-19.

6, New Orleans 41-25
Seven of the next nine games are against teams below .500, including three consecutive in NOLA.

7, Utah 41-26, 0.5 games behind New Orleans
Series: Jazz lead 2-0 and have clinched tiebreaker. Utah visits New Orleans on April 5.
Seven of next 12 games are on the road, where Jazz have struggled mightily at 13-20.

8, Dallas 40-27, 1.5 games behind New Orleans
Series: Hornets lead 2-0. Teams have back-to-back matchups April 10 in Dallas and April 12 in New Orleans. Mavericks are just 5-7 in divisional games, meaning the best they can finish in that potential tiebreaker is 9-7. Hornets are 6-4 in the Southwest.
Mavericks finish regular season with five of last six games in Dallas, which would come in handy if the Suns are able to narrow their current four-game deficit.

9, Phoenix 36-31, 5.5 games behind New Orleans
Series: Hornets lead 2-0 and have clinched tiebreaker. Phoenix visits New Orleans on April 8.
In case you were wondering, since the best Phoenix can finish is 51-31, that makes New Orleans’ magic number 10 to reach the playoffs for a second straight year.