Final
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Hornets, Rockets battle for playoff positioning

Mar 15, 2009 - 11:10 PM By Anthony Giornalista Stats Senior Writer

Houston (43-25) at New Orleans (41-24), 8:00 p.m. EDT

NEW ORLEANS (Ticker) -- As good as the Houston Rockets and New Orleans Hornets have been on defense, they're going to have to tighten up even more if their offensive woes continue.

In a key matchup for playoff positioning in the Western Conference, the Rockets and Hornets look to bounce back from poor scoring efforts Monday night.

Strong defensive play has allowed Houston and New Orleans to overcome their scoring problems, and both teams are in the hunt to catch San Antonio for the Southwest Division title and No. 2 seed in the West. The Rockets trail the Spurs by 2 1/2 games and the Hornets are behind by three.

New Orleans is allowing 93.5 points per game and Houston 94.8. At some point, however, both clubs are going to need more scoring than they got Saturday night, as Houston lost 88-85 to San Antonio and New Orleans fell 97-79 to Chicago.

"These games are very important," said center Tyson Chandler, held to four points on 2-for-6 shooting as the Hornets were limited to 79 points for the second time in four games.

New Orleans was particularly bad from 3-point range, missing all 11 attempts. It was the first time the Hornets failed to make a shot from beyond the arc since March 1, 2006, against the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Rockets' problems versus the Spurs came down the stretch, as they went 0-for-3 on 3-pointers in the fourth quarter despite going 7-for-17 for the game. Ron Artest missed an open 3 that would have tied the game with 9.9 seconds left.

"I would like to say that we have it all figured out in late-game situations, but we're still learning our way," forward Shane Battier told the Rockets' official Web site. "We've won a lot of games on effort and that's good, but we need to win games intellectually."

The Rockets, losers of two of three since winning 11 of 13, may have a tough time getting on track offensively at New Orleans. They averaged 74.0 points and shot 35.1 percent from the field in losing their last two road games against the Hornets.

All of Houston's starters shot under 50 percent in an 88-79 defeat at New Orleans Arena on December 26. The Rockets won the teams' other matchup this season 91-82 on November 15.

Yao Ming had a game-high 21 points for Houston in the November meeting. Star point guard Chris Paul had a tough game for the Hornets, going 2-for-10 and finishing with 12 points.

Paul was New Orleans' lone bright spot against the Bulls, scoring 29 points after finishing with 30 in each of his previous two contests. He's averaged 26.8 points and shot 58.7 percent in his last six games.

The Hornets played their sixth straight game without veteran forward Peja Stojakovic (back), who hopes to return Monday. He's averaged 23.4 points in his previous eight games against New Orleans.