Hornets leading scorer David West has a torn left knee ligament and is out for the season, a development that dims New Orleans' playoff prospects.
"Obviously we are very saddened by this news," Hornets General Manager Dell Demps said after learning the results of an MRI, which revealed a torn anterior cruciate ligament. "David is the ultimate warrior and competitor, but an even better person and we know that he will bounce back in time."
West was injured Thursday night in the Hornets' 121-117 overtime win at Utah. He scored 29 points in the game before being taken off in a wheelchair holding his head and grimacing in pain after going down hard after a dunk that tied the game at 103 with 22.5 seconds left in regulation.
West started 70 games this season, averaging 18.9 points to go with 7.6 rebounds.
The Hornets, who play at Phoenix on Friday night, currently hold the seventh of eight playoff seeds in the Western Conference with nine regular-season games remaining.
"It's a tough situation for him," coach Monty Williams said before the game against the Suns. "He's one of my favorites and became more of a favorite since I've been around the team. I just hate to see a guy put all of his energy and passion into the game, and make the right play and come down and hurt himself like that and be done for the year."
But, Williams said, "he's one of the toughest guys I've been around. He and his wife Leslie, they'll get through this and we look forward to the future."
West's primary backup at power forward is Carl Landry, whom the Hornets acquired shortly before the NBA trading deadline in February in a deal with Sacramento that sent shooting guard Marcus Thornton to the Kings.
Landry started on Friday and then Williams said he would "play it by ear."
"We may play some small ball to take advantage of our quickness," the coach said.
In 13 games since the trade, Landry has averaged 9.5 points and 2.5 rebounds in 21.9 minutes. He has flourished before as a starter, averaging 18 points and 6.5 rebounds in his 28 starts to close out last season in Sacramento, after he was traded from Houston.
Entering Friday night's games, the Hornets (41-31) were only 3½ games ahead of Houston, which is currently in ninth place in the West and trying to move up at least one spot to secure a playoff spot. Phoenix is only a game behind Houston and not only was hosting New Orleans on Friday night but plays the Hornets again in New Orleans on April 8.
West, who will be 31 in August, has twice been named a Western Conference All-Star, in the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons. Next season is the last on his current contract, and it is a player's option. That means West could choose to become a free agent this summer and may have played his last game with the Hornets, who drafted him in the first round in 2003.
West's agent, Lance Young of Octagon, said it is "too soon" to say whether West, who is due $7.53 million next season, will opt out and become a free agent.
AP Sports Writer Bob Baum in Phoenix contributed to this report.