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Suns-Hornets Preview

The New Orleans Hornets are officially going back to the playoffs, and with a victory on Wednesday night, they can make it official that the Phoenix Suns won't be joining them.

Now playing to improve their seeding in the tight Western Conference, the Hornets will be looking to beat Phoenix for a seventh straight time and end the Suns' string of four straight postseason appearances.

New Orleans had dropped two straight going into Tuesday's contest at Miami, and coach Byron Scott recently called on his role players to offer more help to All-Stars Chris Paul and David West.

"You need seven or eight guys to play well and that's maybe some pressure on some of our guys, but it's the NBA. You've got to step up right now," Scott said. "It can't be two or three guys, because if you have ... three guys play well, and everybody else is playing below average, then you still don't have a shot."

The Hornets (48-29) responded by punching a ticket for their second straight playoff appearance with a 93-87 overtime win over the Heat.

Peja Stojakovic had 24 points for New Orleans in his first start in more than a month following back problems, and Rasual Butler sank a game-tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation. But Paul and West still carried the load.

"CP came up to me after the ball went in and told me, 'We're going to win the game for you now,'" Butler said.

Paul finished with 26 points, nine rebounds and nine assists, while West scored eight of his 20 in overtime, including the tiebreaking jumper in the final 10 seconds.

West has been playing with a sprained left ankle, and the Hornets are still without Tyson Chandler and James Posey, as their starting center and top reserve both recover from injuries. They also face a difficult finish to the regular season, with their final four games against likely West playoff teams.

They'll need a strong performance if they hope to earn home-court advantage in a first-round series. New Orleans is currently sixth in the conference, but its deficit behind third-place San Antonio -- the Southwest Division leader -- is just two games.

The Suns likely won't be in the playoffs at all at the end of a trying season filled with coaching changes, a roster shakeup and a season-ending injury to All-Star Amare Stoudemire.

They made a late push for the playoffs by winning eight of 11 going into Sunday's visit to Dallas. But Phoenix (42-35) needed to beat the eighth-place Mavericks to have a realistic shot at a berth, and instead turned in a woeful defensive effort in a 140-116 loss.

Now, any Suns loss or Mavericks win the rest of the way would mathematically eliminate Phoenix.

"We're not holding our breath," Suns point guard Steve Nash said.

Dallas' point total was the highest allowed all season by the Suns, which has the league's 27th-ranked scoring defense (107.7 points per game).

"I don't have any explanation," interim coach Alvin Gentry said. "I really don't. Not in a million years would I have thought we'd come out and play that way in a game of that significance."

It was also Phoenix's fourth straight road loss, as the Suns fell to 1-9 in their last 10 road games. They also lost 104-91 at New Orleans on Dec. 3, and the Hornets are now going for their second straight season-series sweep.

The teams met four times last season, although this matchup is their third and last of this campaign.