Let's force the tempo, Suns!
The Phoenix Suns had a rare stretch of three consecutive days off to lick their wounds after dropping two games in a row to the Spurs and Clippers, plus the news that Grant Hill needed surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee and will be out of action for an estimated 2-4 weeks.
A visit from the worst team in the Western Conference, the New Orleans Hornets, should help cure what ails the Suns. The 13-39 Hornets are 28th in the league in offensive rating, 29th in points per game and last in pace. They're a slow, grinding team that tries to lure opponents into defensive slopfests and then steal a win at the end, as they did on opening night in Phoenix, winning 85-84 on Eric Gordon's game-winning jump shot.
Gordon played one game after that, then had arthroscopic knee surgery, and has yet to return this season. The Hornets also missed injured players Trevor Ariza, Carl Landry, and Emeka Okafor, plus Chris Kaman (illness) and Gustavo Ayon (personal reason) in last night's loss in Los Angeles to the Lakers. That means the Hornets will likely have only one starter in the line-up tonight from that season opener.
This should be a game the Suns will be able to win, yeah?
That doesn't necessarily mean it will be pretty. On the surface, the Hornets are a team in tank mode but they've continued to compete. This past week, they've played the Spurs and Blazers tight, beat up on the Warriors and nearly stole one from the Lakers in LA last night.
They also flat out don't give up many points. A lot of that is due to the snail's pace with which they play and they're only 18th in defensive rating, but the bottom line is that they only gave up 100 points twice in the month of March. In one of those games, they gave up 101 to the Warriors and in the other they gave up 107 in an OT loss to the Lakers, but less than 100 in regulation.
The Suns, meanwhile, have averaged 101 points per game in going 11-6 since the All-Star break. The loss of Hill will be felt much more in games against opponents with strong perimeter scorers, which the Hornets don't have right now unless Marco Belinelli scares you.
Markieff Morris isn't expected to play for the Suns, still out with the flu. I would have thought seeing his Kansas Jayhawks beat Ohio St. to make it to the NCAA Championship game would have made him feel better.
Projected starting line-ups, using Hornets starting five from last night:
PG Steve Nash vs. Jarrett Jack
SG Shannon Brown vs. Marco Belinelli
SF Jared Dudley vs. Lance Thomas
PF Channing Frye vs. Al-Farouq Aminu
C Marcin Gortat vs. Jason Smith
In the first three meetings between the teams, two won by the Suns, the Suns scored 84, 93 and a whopping 120 last time they met. Still, I'm calling this one a likely ugly win, scoring under 100. Sorry fans, no free tacos. You'll just have to get your own.
Only a few games of significance to the Suns' playoff hopes were played last night, but the ninth place Utah Jazz lost in L.A. to the Clippers for their third straight defeat, dropping them to even with the Suns in the loss column at 27-26.
This sprint of a lockout-shortened season has now entered its final month, with the last day of the regular season coming April 26. The Nuggets and Rockets are both currently playing at a 35.5 win pace. Will the Suns be able to make it to that many? Or will one of those competitors see the wheels fall off for some reason? We' will learn in the next three and a half weeks.
Devin Harris had as many assists as CP3 did, but only took 4 shots. He just couldn't keep up. Big Al was Big on offense, netting 26 points, though zero free throw attempts (which sucks, he deserves more than zero). He only had 4 rebounds, which was surprising. Paul had 18 and 9, with 5 assists, but he shot 6/14. He did make up for it somewhat by going 6/6 at the free throw line. The Jazz left 9 points there in this game going 22/31.
As repetitive as it may be, it has to said that in spite of a win, it's concerning that the Grizzlies once again barely beat an inferior opponent. It's especially frustrating that Memphis only won by 4 considering that Monta Ellis, the Bucks' best scorer, went 2-12 for 8 points. Admittedly, Drew Gooden and Ersan Ilyasova both dropped 20 points, but I can live with that when we limit the rest of the team (Note: Brandon Jennings also scored 24, but it was so inefficient that it actually worked in our favor).
Once again, the Grizzlies didn't dominate this game because they couldn't put the ball in the basket. O.J. Mayo, Zach Randolph, and Quincy Pondexter had nice offensive outings and that's it. More than anything else, Mike Conley was sorely missed for his ability to create turnovers and push the ball in transition.
There are plenty of reasons to be disappointed in this game. The Lakers just struggled to beat the New Orleans Hornets ... decimated by (or perhaps aided by, since their goal isn't really success at the moment) injuries ... at home. Kobe's terrible shooting played a big role, but the Lakers as a team were once again slow to loose balls and defensive rotations. The big men both played well (21 and 11 for Gasol, 19 and 10 for Bynum) and Ramon Sessions made the kind of influence that is easily lost if it isn't highlighted - 10 points and 10 assists for Ramon, and just one turnover for the first time as a starter., but the bottom line is that the Lakers were once again out worked and out hustled to many loose balls and rebounds.
Note that the Suns opponents today, the Hornets, battled hard with the Lakers yesterday. We can hope they won't have that type of energy today.