The New Orleans Hornets are in prime position to earn home-court advantage in the Western Conference playoffs. And if they don't, they look plenty capable of winning on the road.
After finishing a 5-1 road trip, the Hornets were leading the West thanks in part to a 25-12 road record, best in the conference and behind only Boston in the NBA.
``We don't really get rattled, especially on someone else's floor,'' All-Star forward David West said after a 98-97 victory at Orlando on Tuesday. ``We know teams are going to play well on their home floor. We stick to our principles. We did a good job of maintaining our aggressiveness and getting stops when we needed to.''
Chris Paul and the Hornets also won at Cleveland and Toronto during their trip through the East, losing only at Boston. They broke the franchise record for road wins with a 106-77 victory at Miami on Wednesday in the finale.
``It's just the mentality,'' coach Byron Scott said after the win in Orlando. ``We won 15 last year and we talked about what we have to do to win 20-plus this year. Right from training camp we understood we had to be a good road team.
``It starts there, and again, having some guys who are very tough-minded with Peja (Stojakovic), and C.P., David, Tyson (Chandler) and all those guys, that helps as well.''
Last month, Scott said the Hornets may be better prepared to play road games than most other teams, because they basically spent two seasons away from home. During their two seasons spent mostly in Oklahoma City following Hurricane Katrina, the Hornets also played home games in Norman, Okla., New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
``I think we have a pretty good understanding of how to play on the road based on what we've been through the last couple of seasons,'' he said, ``so that's probably why we've got such a good road record this season. Because we played in Oklahoma City the last couple of seasons, then we were playing a few games in New Orleans as well.
``This is the first time we've been at home or had a home-court advantage, or whatever you want to call it, for a whole 41 (games) being back in New Orleans. Yeah, I think we are pretty equipped to play on the road because I think we get used to it.''
The Hornets face one more trip, visiting Minnesota, the Lakers and Sacramento. They also play at Dallas on the last night of the regular season in what could be a preview of a first-round series.
WELCOMING WALSH: The New York Knicks have frequently been ridiculed for the moves they've made over the last few years. But they earned nothing but praise for the hiring of Donnie Walsh as their new president of basketball operations.
``You're talking about simply a solid, highly regarded, talented basketball man,'' NBA commissioner David Stern said. ``I think it's terrific.''
New York hired Walsh on Wednesday and gave him complete control of a team that is finishing up its seventh straight losing season. Though his responsibilities in Indiana had lessened since he brought in Larry Bird as team president in 2003, Walsh is still regarded as a top evaluator of talent.
``With Donnie, just to be able to spend one year with him, he is a wonderful gentleman,'' Pacers coach Jim O'Brien said. ``His knowledge of the NBA and personnel and how to put together an organization is just at the top of the league. I feel blessed to have had him for one year and look forward to having a long friendship with him.''
Walsh stressed that turning the Knicks into a winner won't happen immediately because of the salary cap woes they face. But he has a chance to make a quick impact in the draft, since the Knicks have a good chance of landing a top-five pick.
The Knicks lost picks in the top 10 of the last two drafts - they would have picked second in 2006 - because both picks were traded to Chicago in the 2005 deal for Eddy Curry.
``You can't make a mistake with that kind of pick,'' Walsh said.
His track record shows he won't. Walsh recalled perhaps the best decision - and at the time, most unpopular - move during his press conference, when he took UCLA guard Reggie Miller with the No. 11 pick of the 1987 draft. Indiana fans preferred Hoosiers All-American Steve Alford, but Miller went on to become one of the best perimeter players in NBA history.
With Miller as their star, the Pacers turned into one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference, developing a rivalry with the Knicks. And though Walsh has now changed sides, even his former players wish him well.
``It's tough for us. Donnie's somebody who's had an influence on a number of Pacers,'' center Troy Murphy said. ``I've only been here a year and a half and he's had a huge impact on me. I wish him nothing but the best.''
UP AHEAD OUT WEST: Through Thursday's action, no team had clinched a playoff berth in the Western Conference, where nine teams went into the weekend with a chance to win 50 games.
That leaves plenty to sort out in the next week, which includes some of the following big games:
-Golden State at New Orleans. Former Hornets All-Star point guard Baron Davis leads the Warriors into New Orleans for what could be a preview of a first-round series.
-Dallas at Phoenix. Last meeting of the season between these teams is the first that includes the Jason Kidd-Steve Nash pairing.
-Utah at New Orleans. The next chapter in the Chris Paul-Deron Williams rivalry. Williams has averaged 21 points and 9.3 assists to Paul's 15 and 9.3 in three meetings this season, and the Jazz have won two of them.
-Phoenix at San Antonio. The Suns won the lone matchup since acquiring Shaquille O'Neal, and they would clinch the season series with another victory here.
-Utah at Dallas. This comes midway through a brutal finishing stretch for the Jazz, whose final six games are all against teams in the playoff race.
-Denver at Golden State. With the Warriors on the outside looking in through 75 games, this is probably a must-win for Golden State, since a loss gives Denver the season series tiebreaker.
-Phoenix at Houston. Last road game of the season for the Suns, who went into the weekend tied with the Rockets for the No. 5 seed in the West.
-New Orleans at Los Angeles Lakers. Huge chance for Chris Paul or Kobe Bryant to sway some MVP voters in this showdown of division leaders.
-Denver at Utah. Most of the focus is on the Nuggets' race with Dallas and Golden State for the No. 7 and 8 seeds, but Denver still has a chance to make the playoffs by catching the Jazz for the Northwest Division title.
GOOD GUYS: The NBA revealed the nominees for one award and the winner of another, both given to some of the league's good guys.
Some of the names, such as Grant Hill and Shane Battier, were obvious. The last one was a bit of a stunner: Stephen Jackson.
The Golden State Warriors forward was honored with the league's Community Assist Award for March, recognizing his charitable efforts in the Bay Area and in his hometown of Port Arthur, Texas.
Jackson is the same player who was suspended by the league for the first seven games of this season after pleading guilty over the summer to a felony count of criminal recklessness for firing a gun outside an Indiana strip club.
His problems with the Pacers - he also was suspended for his role in the brawl in Detroit - overshadowed the fact that Jackson has long been active in giving his time and money.
``I have played in several different cities and countries during my career,'' Jackson said in a statement. ``But one thing will never change: my passion to give back to the community.''
Last month, Jackson participated in a ``Silence the Violence'' discussion panel with Oakland Mayor Ronald Dellums at a Bay Area high school. He also partnered with musician John Legend to raise $50,000 for the ``Show Me'' campaign, which works to prevent poverty around the world.
Also, Jackson launched the Jack 1 Foundation in Port Arthur, and plans to open the Stephen Jackson Academy there this summer for students from kindergarten to fifth grade. He will be honored on April 12 with Stephen Jackson Day in San Francisco, where a basketball court he sponsored at the Omega Boys Club is scheduled to open.
Phoenix's Hill and Houston's Battier are up for the 2007-08 NBA Sportsmanship Award. Toronto's Chris Bosh, Washington's Antawn Jamison, Portland's Brandon Roy and Detroit's Antonio McDyess were also chosen from a five-person panel as representatives from their division for the award, named for Detroit Pistons Hall of Famer Joe Dumars.
Hill, in his first season in Phoenix, won the award in 2004-05 while playing for Orlando.

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