for this game

Hornets-76ers Preview

Mar 2, 2016 - 4:52 AM A home-heavy stretch has the Charlotte Hornets feeling positive about their playoff prospects, but they will first need to avoid a letdown against the NBA-worst Philadelphia 76ers.

Before opening a seven-game homestand, Kemba Walker and the Hornets look to continue showing improvement on the road Wednesday night.

Charlotte (31-28) is sixth in the Eastern Conference, but just one game ahead of ninth-place Chicago.

The Hornets are confident they can create some separation with nine of their next 11 games at home, where they are 20-9. They coasted to a 126-92 rout of visiting Phoenix on Tuesday behind Walker's 26 points and nine assists.

"We've been doing real well at home, and we've got a lot of road games coming up," said Al Jefferson, who had 19 points and seven rebounds off the bench. "What we can't do is go out and get too comfortable.

"We said this game would mean nothing if we go to Philly and lay an egg. Every game is very important, especially going down the stretch this late in the season."

Walker has been the biggest contributor during a 7-2 stretch, averaging 23.1 points. However, his worst effort over that span came in Sunday's 87-76 loss at Atlanta, scoring nine points while missing 12 of 15 shots.

That came after Charlotte won five of its previous six road games, and that improvement is encouraging to coach Steve Clifford.

"We've done a lot better job on the road the last month, so we've given ourselves a chance here (at the playoffs). But this is a big stretch for us. When you have nine of the next (11) at home, you've got to take advantage of that. They understand that, and we're playing better.

"We're much more balanced in the way we're playing."

The Hornets have won seven of the last nine meetings with the 76ers (8-52), including a 113-88 thumping at home Nov. 20. They fell 89-81 in the latest visit to Philadelphia on Feb. 7, 2015, but Walker was out recovering from knee surgery.

He's averaging 24.7 points on 55.4 percent shooting over his last three matchups.

The 76ers are limping toward the end of another dreadful season, allowing 116.2 points during a nine-game skid. They've already endured losing streaks of 18 and 12 games this season, and another defeat would make them the first team to have three slides of at least 10 since the New Jersey Nets in 2009-10.

Philadelphia was officially eliminated from playoff contention with Monday's 116-108 loss at Washington. Coach Brett Brown, though, saw reason for optimism and cited the Sixers' 34-19 scoring edge in the third quarter.

"I was proud of a lot in that game. The third period, the camaraderie on the bench, the spirit on the floor," Brown said. "We just have to play longer."

It's unknown if Jahlil Okafor will be available after he sat out Monday with a bruised right shin. The center leads the team and all rookies with 17.5 points per game.

He scored 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting at Charlotte in November.

Ish Smith did his part to make up for Okafor's absence Monday, scoring 25 points with seven assists. The guard is averaging 15.9 points in 14 home games since being acquired in a trade with New Orleans.