Hornets making strong playoff push, won 8 of last 10 games

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Michael Jordan just might find himself back in the NBA playoffs.

His Charlotte Hornets (32-28) are making a strong push toward the postseason, winning eight of their last 10 games to move up to sixth in the Eastern Conference standings.

Now the Hornets have a chance to gain separation from the middle of the East pack and possibly jump up to a higher seed with nine of their next 10 games at home, including the next seven in a row. Charlotte is two games behind the Miami Heat for the East's fourth-best record, giving them a chance to claim home-field advantage for a playoff series if they can keep winning.

''There are two things we talked about repeatedly at the beginning of the season - you want to make the playoffs, but you also want to be playing in a way that you can be a factor in the playoffs,'' Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. ''We are playing better and better, especially on the road.''

They're playing even better at home.

The Hornets are 20-9 this season at the place they call ''The Hive.''

They'll open the home stand Friday night against Indiana, which is just a half-game behind Charlotte in the East standings in seventh place, giving added significance to the game.

''It's important, it's really important,'' guard Kemba Walker said of the upcoming home stand. ''We definitely want to take care of business. We are able to get some rest and try to take advantage of our home court.''

Clifford attributes Charlotte's recent success to the improved play of Walker and the overall team defense. The Hornets have allowed only one of their last 12 opponents to score 100 points.

Walker, who is 18th in the league in scoring, is averaging 23.8 points and 5.5 assists over the last 10 games. He had 26 points against Phoenix and 30 points versus Philadelphia in wins on Tuesday and Wednesday night, respectively.

As Walker goes, so go the Hornets this season.

The 6-foot-1 point guard is averaging 23.5 points per game in the team's 31 wins and 17.7 points in its 28 losses.

''He has improved every year but the jump from last year to this year is really significant,'' Clifford said.

Walker is shooting 37 percent from 3-point range after averaging just 31.7 percent in his previous four seasons with the Hornets making him a candidate as the league's most improved player.

Clifford said Walker's pick-and-roll game has also improved dramatically, particularly how he's learned to set up the defense.

''He has the dribble-through like (Steve) Nash used to do, his pull-up game, he is drawing fouls on the bigs and scores on both sides of the basket,'' Clifford said.

Said Jeremy Lin: ''He's shooting the ball great. He's playing with great poise and he's definitely controlling the game. Coach is going through him and he's doing a great job of producing.''

Now the Hornets turn their attention to maintaining momentum down the stretch, where they have six more back-to-back games.

''I know we control our own record and own situation and that's what we have to focus on,'' Lin said.

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