For the third time in four years, the New Orleans Hornets punched their ticket Wednesday night with a 101-93 victory over the Houston Rockets. Chris Paul scored 28 points, dished out 10 assists, and pulled down 9 boards. Trevor Ariza scored 19, snagged 5 rebounds, and led the defense with 6 steals. Here is more from the AP and, followed by more blogging from Scott.

Jarrett Jack, who's in his sixth season, and seventh-year pro Emeka Okafor, also played key roles in helping guarantee their first-career playoff appearances -- all while ensuring rookie coach Monty Williams would get his with a far shorter wait.

Jack finished with 19 points, including four clutch free throws in the final 11.5 seconds. Okafor added 11 points, and afterward smiled broadly while talking about his impending maiden playoff voyage.

"I'm looking forward to seeing what all the fuss is about," he said.

The victory moved the Hornets (45-33) into sixth in the Western Conference, ahead of Portland (45-33) by only a tiebreaker and one game ahead Memphis (44-34).

The playoff ticket did not seem punchable after the first quarter. After all, the Hornets trailed the Rockets by 17 after allowing a season high 38 first quarter points. Chris Paul and Monty Williams demanded better defense from the team. They got it, as Houston only scored 55 the followind 3 quarters.


"The first quarter we looked like the bad news bears," explained Paul. "The last three quarters we showed up.  It's been our (team) philsophy all season to defend. Defend, rebound, and run. That's what we did tonight."

Paul played at an awesome level. Aside from the impressive stat line (28 Pts, 9 Reb, 10 Ast, 1 Stl), CP3 was playing on a sore knee. Monty Williams noted in postgame that Chris had fluid drained from his left knee on Tuesday. The extreme soreness was the result of knocking knees with Pacers forward Jeff Foster in Sunday's win over Indiana. The heroic performance was not lost on the Hornet head coach.

"For him to be able to play at a high level like that with a sore leg, they just don't make them like that," said Williams. "That act of sacrifice was what we needed and we certainly need him to play at that level."

They do indeed. Without David West, New Orleans needs the offensive production and the high level of play that Chris Paul displayed in Wednesday's win. Without it, the Hornets will be hard pressed to defeat any Western Conference playoff team.