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Saturday, April 5, 2008 - Page updated at 08:36 AM

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Hornets Beat Knicks; Clinch Playoff Spot

Chris Paul had 33 points and 15 assists, and the New Orleans Hornets became the first Western Conference team to clinch a playoff berth by beating the New York Knicks 118-110 on Friday night.

Jamal Crawford had 29 points for the Knicks, who have lost 17 of 19 but stayed competitive into the fourth quarter. The Hornets trailed 95-91 with 10:20 left before putting away the game with a 26-9 run, getting 12 points from Peja Stojakovic during that spurt.

Stojakovic finished with 22 points and David West added 17 for the Hornets, who won their 10th in a row at home. They were coming off a season-high, six-game road trip in which they went 5-1.

New Orleans (53-22), which never has been better than a No. 4 seed in the playoffs, increased its lead on the top of the West to 1 1/2 games over the San Antonio Spurs, who lost to Utah.

New York (20-56) finished an 0-5 road trip. The Knicks played well for 3 1/2 quarters but could not sustain that effort down the stretch as embattled coach Isiah Thomas missed an opportunity to impress new president of basketball operations Donnie Walsh.

Paul and Stojakovic took over after the Hornets fell behind in the fourth quarter. Paul came up with a steal and an assist to Bonzi Wells for a transition layup to give New Orleans the lead for good, 97-95. Seconds later, Paul had an easy basket after another Knicks turnover.

New York called a timeout and cut the deficit to 99-98, but Stojakovic drained two 3-pointers to give the Hornets a 107-100 lead with 5:56 left. Paul then hit five straight free throws as New Orleans built its advantage to 117-104.

Reserve Nate Robinson scored 23 points for New York and Zach Randolph added 22, 11 in the first quarter. The Knicks lost despite shooting 55 percent. They led 48-40 midway through the second quarter, before Paul scored 13 points in the last 5:15 of the half to put the Hornets ahead 60-56.

The Hornets trailed 48-40 before Paul scored 13 points in the last six minutes of the second quarter to give them a 60-56 lead at the half. He hit six of his eight shots in the first half and added six assists.

Zach Randolph followed an 11-point first quarter with more turnovers (three) than points (two) in the second quarter for the Knicks, who went cold after connecting on 19 of their first 31 shots (61.3 percent).

The Hornets hit 57.1 percent of their shots in the first quarter, a number that would have been even higher if Stojakovic had not missed five of his first seven.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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