Yesterday's slate of five NBA games provided an appetizer for today's main course of the Phoenix Suns season opener. The Suns start the season facing the New Orleans Hornets, whose defeat of the Suns late last March pounded one of the final nails in the coffin of a lost season.
It will be a radically altered Hornets team the Suns see tonight, after the trade of Chris Paul for Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, Al-Farouq Aminu and a draft pick. Greivis Vasquez was acquired from the Grizzlies in a separate trade and will receive a lot of playing time at point guard for the Hornets as well. The Hornets also lost power forward David West to the Pacers in free agency.
The Suns will return the same starting lineup they closed last season with: Steve Nash, Jared Dudley, Grant Hill, Channing Frye and Marcin Gortat, but will try to fill the role of Nash's backup with Ronnie Price and Sebastian Telfair after Aaron Brooks' departure to China. Vince Carter is gone, replaced by Shannon Brown, and rookie Markieff Morris will hope to join the rotation at power forward.
After the short pre-season providing little time for teams to gel, this difference in team cohesion should provide the Suns an advantage. Oh, and not having to face Chris Paul will help too.
Jump into the 2011-2012 season!
When we last saw the Hornets, they pushed the Lakers to 6 games in the first round of the playoffs before being eliminated. Then came the drama of the Chris Paul almost-trade to the Lakers and eventual trade to the Clippers after the NBA's lockout ended.
New Orleans is a defensively-oriented team under head coach Monty Williams, giving up only 94 PPG last season and featuring the strong inside presence of Emeka Okafor. Eric Gordon, the centerpiece of the return for Paul, is an explosive scorer and figures to be the Hornets' go to player. Vasquez will replace Paul at point, which is obviously a huge downgrade, as starter Jarrett Jack is suspended for a DUI.
While the Suns were stable in comparion, they didn't look like it in getting run out of the building twice against the Nuggets in pre-season. Channing Frye is in one of his shooting slumps, Josh Childress still can't find his role on the team and Marcin Gortat suffered a broken thumb in the pre-season opener. But Steve Nash looks as sharp as ever, Jared Dudley demonstrated that his hard offseason work is paying off, and Markieff Morris made a strong case for some serious minutes in the rotation.
A home opener versus a team that's in flux after losing its best player and top two scorers from last season (Paul and West) should be a win for the Suns. After Gordon, the Hornets don't have a lot of scoring options as Carl Landry is their leading returning scorer, and Landry only averaged 11.8 PPG last season.
Let's be blunt. It will be disappointing if this game isn't a win for the Suns. A condensed 66-game schedule will provide many unique pitfalls and few breathers. The Suns are a borderline playoff team at best, and must take advantage of all opportunities to have a successful season.
New Orleans Hornets at Phoenix Suns, 7PM MST, US Airways Center, Phoenix, AZ
PG: Steve Nash vs. Greivis Vasquez
SG: Jared Dudley vs. Eric Gordon
SF: Grant Hill vs. Trevor Ariza
PF: Channing Frye vs. Carl Landry
C: Marcin Gortat vs. Emeka Okafor
And I leave Nash with the last word, from the Coro piece:
"You can find reward or fulfillment in every situation. Everyone wants to be in the position where they go into the locker room and say 'we can win a title this year.' But I feel like we've got a lot to prove and a lot to play for, and we can find a way to make it an exciting, rewarding year. Who knows how many people we can surprise? It's not a lost cause. We can be a good team."
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