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Friday, April 9th (All times eastern)

Utah Jazz (51-28) at New Orleans Hornets (35-44), 8 p.m.

(Sports Network) - Utah returns to the hardwood tonight in the Big Easy against the New Orleans Hornets hoping to improve on its playoff position in the jumbled Western Conference.

The Jazz enter tonight's contest as the West's fifth seed but are just one- half game behind both Dallas and Phoenix and one game south of Denver, which also leads Utah for the Northwest Division crown. Securing one of the top four seeds and homecourt advantage in the first round of the postseason is paramount for each of those clubs.

The Jazz took a big hit in their last encounter as the lottery-bound Rockets dismantled them in Houston, 113-96, on Wednesday. Kevin Martin and Aaron Brooks each scored 28 points to lead the Rockets in that one.

Utah was coming off Tuesday's 140-139 overtime win over Oklahoma City, but totaled 26 turnovers in losing. Carlos Boozer had 18 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Jazz.

"They played better than we did," Boozer said. "They hit shots, they rebounded, they played well. I know we were all searching for our energy. We didn't have it, but that's not an excuse. They took it to us."

The setback could have been Utah's second straight, as the NBA admitted Wednesday that game officials made a mistake Tuesday. The league said officials missed a foul on the Thunder's Kevin Durant as he attempted a three- pointer at the buzzer, which allowed the Jazz to come away victorious.

Standout center Mehmet Okur left in the third quarter against Houston with a sore Achilles' and did not return. The veteran is questionable for tonight's contest.

The Hornets, meanwhile, continue to stumble toward the finish line and lost their fourth straight on Wednesday when D.J. Augustin made a key three-pointer with 15.8 seconds left, as the Charlotte Bobcats clinched the franchise's first- ever playoff berth with a 104-103 victory over New Orleans.

Rookie Marcus Thornton finished with 36 points for the Hornets. Fellow freshman Darren Collison had 24 points and nine assists, while David West added 13 points and eight boards in defeat.

"I thought we did a good job just fighting and staying competitive," West said.

Star point guard Chris Paul has been shut down for the season by the Hornets. Paul played in seven games after missing two months due to a knee injury but suffered a ligament tear in his right middle finger.

The injury will not require surgery and the timetable for Paul's return to basketball activities is approximately seven weeks.

"It has been a very difficult season for me in terms of injuries," said Paul. "I hate not being out on the court helping my team, but the best thing for me to do is to get completely healthy. I am hopeful to be back playing basketball by June."

Utah has taken six of the past seven meetings in the series.

04/09 11:31:34 ET


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