By JEFF BARTL
(AP) -- The Houston Rockets' dropoff in the stretch run has kept them out of the playoffs for a third straight year. The New Orleans Hornets contributed to that slide.
Visiting New Orleans seeks its eighth victory in 10 meetings with Houston when the teams conclude their seasons Thursday night.
The Rockets (33-32) were in contention for a playoff berth after winning eight of 11 from March 20-April 9. Their season quickly took a turn, though, as a 1-7 record since has put an end to their playoff hopes.
Houston, coming off a 97-88 loss to Miami on Sunday, had a respectable showing under first-year coach Kevin McHale despite injuries to Kevin Martin and Kyle Lowry. The players will have missed a combined 45 games after both sit out the finale.
"Failure is a horrible word. I don't like it and I don't consider (the season) a failure," said big man Luis Scola, who leads the team in total points. "Our goal was to make the playoffs and we are hurt because we couldn't qualify. But a failure? No, I don't see it that way."
Rookie Chandler Parsons set a career high with 23 points Sunday, but it proved to be a bittersweet effort for him.
"Fortunately, I hit shots," Parsons said. "My teammates got me open. I just hate losing so at the end it doesn't matter how well I played. A loss is a loss."
Goran Dragic scored 23 points and Chase Budinger added 22, but Parsons went 1 for 9 from the field and scored three points in a 105-99 overtime loss to New Orleans last Thursday. That was Houston's sixth straight defeat.
Eric Gordon scored 27 points for the Hornets in that contest, but he won't play in the finale. Gordon, acquired from the Los Angeles Clippers as the centerpiece of the offseason deal for Chris Paul, averaged 20.6 points but played in only nine games and had arthroscopic knee surgery.
Marco Belinelli had a game-high 23 points in New Orleans' 83-81 win Tuesday, scoring on a goaltending call with 1.5 seconds remaining. The Hornets (21-44) are finishing a rebuilding season strongly, having won six of eight.
"I think it's important to win," Belinelli said. "I don't care if it's one or two more games in the season, lottery pick, I don't care. I just want to get a win. That's the mentality we need to have."
New Orleans hasn't had much trouble earning wins against Houston in recent years, with the victory last week being its seventh in nine meetings.
Four of the last five matchups have been decided by six or fewer points and three have gone to overtime - including the last two.
The Rockets won 90-88 in OT behind 32 points from Martin in the most recent meeting in Houston on Jan. 19. That ended New Orleans' three-game road winning streak in the series.
A Rockets victory Thursday will give them a winning record for each of the last three seasons despite missing the playoffs each time.
Updated April 25, 2012