Let's take a trip down memory lane for a second, shall we? Remember the tumultuous losing effort against the Los Angeles Lakers? Yeah, the one from a couple days ago. Of course you do. It was a game we (or at least I) won't soon forget. We saw Coach Gentry's double technical foul and ejection from the game, Lou Amundson flagrantly fouled-without the correct call (I don't think it was a dirty play, but it should have been a flagrant...simple as that), and questionable officiating all around. But that was then. This is now.
Enter the New Orleans Hornets. The Hornets will be playing without All-Star guard Chris Paul, veteran swingman James Posey, and sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic. They have lost six of their last seven games. They're currently manning the 11th spot in the Western Conference, 7 games behind the Portland Trail Blazers. Oh, and there's only 16 games left.
But none of that really matters.
The Hornets are a team that, despite losing its best player in Chris Paul, have managed to play around .500 basketball, thanks to the strong play of rookie point guard Darren Collison (I wonder if the Suns regret not drafting him?) and first-year shooting guard, Marcus Thornton. Both players have played with the air of a veteran, especially the young Collison. Heck, he even had a Steve Nash/Chris Paul-esque game where he piled up twenty assists (albeit with a little help from his friends at the scoring table). While the Hornets have been slumping recently, the absences left by veteran players has opened up some golden opportunities for some very talented rookies to show their stuff. If the Suns are counting out the Hornets in this game, that could very well prove to be their biggest mistake.
Now, I'm not saying that the Hornets are going to summon some sort of miraculous play with three important rotation players on the bench. But this is a game that the Suns should win, plain and simple.
We are now in the midst of the "stretch run". Teams all around the league are jockeying for playoff position, trying to get a favorable first round matchup (or at least try to avoid the teams that they have trouble with). It's no secret that It's a long shot (a very, very long shot, at that) that the Hornets will wind up in this year's playoffs. As stated before, the Hornets face an almost insurmountable 7 game deficit to the 8th seed Trail Blazers, and there are only 16 games left for them to try and make that push. So, I think it's safe to say that the Hornets will be booking their offseason vacations a little early this year.
The Suns, however, are fighting for their lives for as high of a seed as possible. It's almost assured that the Suns will be going to the postseason this year, but they're trying to avoid the first round matchup with the defending NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers. The Suns are only 2.5 games out of the 4th seed, but are also only one game away from the 8th seed. If the Suns are wanting to improve their seeding, these are the games that they are going to have to win.
Keys to the Game
- The Suns need to come out fired up. They're playing at home, they're coming off of a tough loss to the Lakers, and as mentioned above, there are serious playoff implications.
- Keep your cool. While this game will likely not get nearly as heated as the game against the Lakers, it was when things started getting hot that the game officially got out of control.
- Go to Amare early and often. With Steve Nash still clearly ailing (he looks better, but not nearly 100%), the Suns should look to go to Amare, who is coming off of a huge game where he posted 29 points and 16 rebounds.
- Take advantage of the injured Hornets. I cannot stress this enough. While the Hornets have a few holes in their lineup, the players that have absorbed the minutes have filled in almost seamlessly. The Suns need to come out and take advantage of the advantage in depth.
- Spread the floor. With Channing Frye back from a one-game suspension and Dragic finding his rhythm again after returning from injury, the Suns need to get back to what makes them a difficult team to beat: spreading the floor. When the Suns are hitting from outside, it's nearly impossible to stop the one-two punch of Amare on the inside, and the shooters on the outside.
- Bring the defensive intensity. The Suns need to get their defensive game into shape before the playoffs, and every game leading up to it can be a test. The Suns don't need to be a lockdown defensive team to win, but they do need to get some stops, as we've seen them be able to do.