Hornets.com postgame: Hornets 121, Jazz 117 (OT)

Thursday, March 24, 2011
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

Hornets (41-31), Jazz (36-37)

It was over when… Chris Paul sank two free throws with 7 seconds remaining in overtime, giving the Hornets a two-possession edge over the Jazz, who had no timeouts left. New Orleans emerged with a victory in the wildest game of the 2010-11 regular season, complete with an off-balance Emeka Okafor buzzer-beater at the end of regulation to force OT. Okafor picked a superb time to make his deepest shot of the entire season, a 20-footer off a Paul deflection. Unfortunately for the Hornets, David West left the game near the end of the fourth quarter after landing awkwardly on his left leg following a monstrous dunk.

Hornets MVP: David West piled up 29 points, including 20 in the first half, but after his final basket of the game, he ended up on the baseline floor at EnergySolutions Arena, wincing in anguish and holding his left knee. Play continued at the other end of the floor as Utah attempted to win the game in regulation; following Utah’s possession, New Orleans players darted the 94 feet in the other direction to check on West. The two-time All-Star was wheeled to the locker room in a wheelchair. After the game, the Hornets said he will undergo and MRI. His status is expected to be updated on Friday.

Hornets Sixth Man of the Game: Aaron Gray was immense in the second half and overtime, grabbing multiple crucial rebounds. Gray actually led the Hornets in scoring during the overtime period, tallying six of his 10 points. Just a 50 percent free-throw shooter on the season entering Thursday (granted, it was only in 20 attempts), Gray sank four straight charity tosses to help seal the road win in overtime.

The buzz on… what the Hornets need to do to clinch a playoff berth. A couple Twitter visitors wondered about New Orleans’ magic number earlier today, so I figured I’d try to give a more detailed (and hopefully understandable) explanation of the situation.

With Thursday’s victory over the Jazz, the Hornets’ magic number to wrap up a postseason trip was reduced to 8. Under “normal” and simpler circumstances, that would mean that any combination of Hornets wins and Suns losses equaling or surpassing 8 would ensure NOLA of qualifying for the playoffs. However, it’s not as simple as that, because – along with Phoenix – Houston and Utah also still have a mathematical chance to unseat NOLA for a postseason berth.

Thursday’s outcome went a long way in diminishing Utah’s realistic hopes of finishing ahead of New Orleans, however. Since the best the Jazz can now finish is 45-37, the Hornets only need to go 5-5 (resulting in a 46-36 record) to ensure themselves of beating out the Jazz.

In the case of Houston, the Rockets are 38-34, meaning the best they can mathematically finish is 48-34. New Orleans has locked up the tiebreaker on Houston, because even if Houston ties the head-to-head series at 2-2 in the Big Easy next month, the Hornets have already sealed the upper hand in the next tiebreaking step, which is Southwest Division record. Therefore, the Hornets’ magic number to overtake the Rockets is just 7 - a combination of Hornets wins or Rockets losses.

Finally, like the Rockets, the Suns could still finish 48-34, but in the case of Phoenix, New Orleans has NOT wrapped up the tiebreaker. The Hornets and Suns still play each other twice, meaning the Suns could still earn that tiebreaking edge. Therefore, in terms of magic number, the Hornets need to get to 49-33 to prevent the Suns from having any chance to overtake them. As a result, the Hornets’ magic number as it relates to the Suns is 8. Simple, right?

Blog question of the night: Following Thursday’s dramatic victory and based on all of the various factors, how confident are you that the Hornets will soon earn a playoff berth?