The Hornets trailed by 18 points and never led by more than two, but got a much-needed victory in their quest for a playoff spot when Francis dribbled back after grabbing an offensive rebound to shoot a 3-pointer that rattled out just before the buzzer.
"We were like, please don't go in," reserve Rasual Butler said. "It's a feeling of relief, also a feeling of we're still in the thick of things."
West finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds for the Hornets. Chris Paul, playing with a stress reaction in his left foot, had 20 points and eight assists, and Butler scored 17 points.
Francis had 21 points and 10 assists, but the Knicks had a disappointing start to a four-game homestand.
"I looked at Steve Francis' foot before I looked at the shot," Paul said. "I just wanted to know if it was a 3 or a 2. His foot was behind the line and if that shot would have went in, we would have been one sick team."
New York, outfitted in green uniforms to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, blew a chance to move into sole possession of seventh place in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks haven't made the playoffs since 2004.
Despite their struggles, the Hornets are still in the race for a playoff spot in the West. They came into the night tied for 11th, but only a game out of a tie for eighth.
"We're just going to keep fighting," West said. "We know it's a logjam so to speak with a whole bunch of other teams. But we're just going to try to make the best of it and take care of what we can take care of."
Stephon Marbury, who was just 3-for-13 from the field, tied it at 90 with two free throws with 1:14 remaining. West then made his jumper for the Hornets, and the lead stayed at two after misses by Curry and Paul.
Marbury missed on a drive after a timeout, got the ball back, and Frye missed a jumper. The Knicks kept the ball alive until Francis came down with it with 2.6 seconds left. He dribbled back behind the 3-point arc, even though New York needed only two for the tie.
"I was open. I got the ball and got a pretty decent look," Francis said. "I thought I'd be able to make it."
Francis had made a 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat Washington on Saturday night.
"Stevie wanted to win it, bottom line," Hornets coach Byron Scott said. "He brought it out and had a pretty good look at it. He hit one like that against Washington.
"It was a big-time shot. He had a big-time heart to take that type of shot. Fortunately for us, it went out."
Butler's 3-pointer with 5:10 remaining capped a 15-5 run and gave the Hornets an 83-82 lead, their first since it was 2-0. Marbury answered with a jumper 20 seconds later to put New York back in front, setting up the back-and-forth final minutes.
The Knicks dominated the first quarter, shooting 56.5 percent and holding the Hornets to 4-for-22 (18 percent) from the field. Frye had 10 points in the period, helping New York open a 29-15 lead.
Butler hit a couple of 3-pointers to bring the Hornets within 10, but the Knicks quickly answered with a 10-2 spurt to build a 43-25 lead midway through the second quarter. Things were coming so easily to New York that Malik Rose ran down the court laughing on one trip after he pulled away from Marc Jackson while Jackson was backing him in, causing the reserve forward to fall down and turn it over.
"It's tough when you're up the way we were up, and then to lose the lead and then to play the way we played in the second half," Marbury said. "We weren't playing the way we were playing at the beginning of the game."
New Orleans pulled to 54-48 at halftime.
- The Hornets have won the past four meetings.
- Burned in your NCAA Tournament pool by picking Gonzaga to upset Indiana? A former Hoosiers star would have advised against it. "They're definitely tournament-ready and they have a tournament style," Isiah Thomas said of Indiana, a No. 7 seed. "They're very athletic, they pressure, they shoot the 3-ball, they can get to the basket, and they compete."
- Thomas got a loud cheer during pregame introductions in the Knicks' first home game since he was given a multiyear contract extension on Monday.