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Updated: Thursday, April 3, 2003 2:07 AM EST
NBA RECAP
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New Orleans 106, New Jersey 97
NEW JERSEY NETS
New Jersey Nets
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NEW ORLEANS HORNETS
New Orleans Hornets
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NEW ORLEANS (Ticker) -- The New Orleans Hornets are headed to the postseason. Once there, they hope they will not be shorthanded.

Baron Davis suffered a left knee injury in the third quarter in the Hornets' 106-97 victory over the New Jersey Nets, who had a four-game winning streak stopped.

The Hornets' floor general, Davis went to the locker room with 2:32 remaining in the third quarter with a twisted left knee and did not return.

Davis returned to the lineup last month after missing 20 games with torn cartilage in the same knee. The Hornets proved they could play without their leader as they went 13-7.

It is uncertain how serious Davis' latest injury is, but after the game he was walking gingerly and smiling.

Jamal Mashburn scored 24 points and Davis 19 before leaving for the Hornets (42-34), who clinched their fourth straight playoff berth. Jamaal Magloire also had a big night with 17 points and 16 rebounds.

"We still got a long way to go as far as seeding is concerned," Mashburn said. Richard Jefferson scored 24 points and Jason Kidd had 17 and 13 assists for New Jersey, which had its lead in the Atlantic Division cut to one-half game over Philadelphia.

"We knew this game was going to be tough," Nets coach Byron Scott said. "This was the third time (we've played). They had something to prove. They had a lot of fight in them. They were physical and aggressive. Give them credit."

For the second straight game, New Jersey played without starting forward Kenyon Martin and backup shooting guard Lucious Harrs (ankle).

After beating the Hornets in five games in the Eastern Conference semifinals last season and winning the first two meetings this season, the Nets got off to another quick start, building a 16-8 lead in the first five minutes. They held a 22-19 lead after one quarter.

Hornets coach Paul Silas went with a quicker backcourt late in the first quarter, inserting former Net Robert Pack to play alongside Davis. That strategy worked as the Hornets began the second quarter by converting in transition, rather than setting up in the half-court offense.

A dunk by Davis off a pass from Pack gave the Hornets the lead for good, 34-33, with 6:04 left in the half. Davis drained a pull-up jumper on a fast break, extending the margin to 42-35 with 3:28 to play.

"Baron hit some big shots in transition in the second quarter," Lynch said. "That was the key to get us going. Then Robert Pack came in and Baron moved to the 2-spot. That was a good combination."

Pack had 10 points and eight assists while filling a key role. Starting guard David Wesley (ankle) and backup Kenny Anderson (coach's decision) did not play.

"He did a great job," Silas said. "That just shows the professonalism he has. To not play for such a long time, then to step right in not miss a beat ... eight assists for the young man. He made some key hoops for us, good defense. He just played a heck of a game for us."

With 8:58 left in the third quarter, tempers flared when Nets forward Brian Scalabrine and Magloire became entangled under the New Jersey basket. Both coaches were drawn onto the floor before officials restored order.

The incident seemed to spark the Hornets, who used a 16-2 surge to take control of the game.

Davis started the surge with a layup, Lynch scored on a tip-in and Mashburn scored five straight points. Davis capped the run with a layup with 2:35 left in the quarter, pushing the advantage to 75-53. He left the contest three seconds later.

Scott thought the scuffle should have given momemtum to his team.

"I thought that should've inspired us," he said. "Jason (Kidd) was inspired. He started running around the court. Nobody really followed him. It wasn't until the quarter when the other guys did and it was too late at that time."

"A lot was at stake tonight. It was important for everybody to contribute," Mashburn said. "We have to come out with same intensity in our upcoming games."

Lynch, who also had a 3-pointer during the decisive burst, finished 8-of-11 from the field and Davis went 8-of-16 from the floor.

Without Davis in the fourth quarter, the Hornets became stagnant on offense and the Nets made a run, closing to 96-89 with 2:04 remaining on a 3-pointer by Kerry Kittles, who scored 19 points.

"We definitely need Baron in there," Lynch said. "We missed him in the fourth quarter but we hung together."

Rodney Rogers added 16 points for the Nets, who shot 42 percent (33-of-79) and were outrebounded, 47-33.


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