In a playoff chase with two teams to pass for a spot in the post-season, there is little room for error, and the Suns did the necessary and expected tonight, defeating the shorthanded New Orleans Hornets 92-75.
The Suns were led by Jared Dudley's 21 points and 7 rebounds, Shannon Brown chipped in 16, Steve Nash dished 14 assists and the Suns held a huge edge in FTs, hitting 19-21 to only 7-9 for the Hornets.
The Hornets were led by Marco Belinelli and Jason Smith, who scored 14 apiece, but Suns starters held a huge advantage over Hornets starters, and the Suns led by as many as 21 as they pulled away in the third quarter.
This was a Hornets team playing its fifth and final game of an eight day road trip, and they were missing Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza, although Chris Kaman and Gustavo Ayon did return for New Orleans, scoring 8 and 4, respectively.
Tonight's game went as expected. The Suns got the win they needed. It wasn't very pretty and Grant Hill's defense wasn't missed because the Hornets don't have the scorers to take advantage. To their credit, the Hornets don't look like a team that's tanking. They're continuing to play hard, even as their missing players and fatigue from this road trip make winning nearly impossible.
For the Suns, they took care of their business with a balanced offensive effort and held the punchless Hornets to only 75 points. Ho hum, and it was against the worst team in the West at home, but it counts as one in the W column just the same, and a Houston Rockets loss to he Pacers lifts the Suns to only 1 1/2 games back of the eighth and final playoff spot.
- Channing Frye played another one of those games where his 3-point shot wasn't falling (0-4) and he made a contribution in other ways, leading the Suns in rebounding and swatting their only two blocked shots. Occasionally, Frye looks like more of a conventional PF than his reputation as a one-dimensional bomber indicates, and that was the case tonight. The Suns won the battle in the paint, and Frye was a big reason.
- Another Suns big man who helped win the paint was Robin Lopez, who scored 10 points in the first half to help stabilize things when the rest of the bench was again shaky. Though held scoreless in the second half, Lopez notched his second consecutive double-figure scoring outing.
- After a rough start as a member of the Suns, Shannon Brown has become a solid player and is taking advantage of his opportunity to start with Grant Hill's injury. He had 16 points on 6-11 shooting tonight, and continues to look more comfortable, taking fewer bad shots and adopting the Suns style of sharing the ball. At the right price and of course depending upon what other moves the Suns make, keeping Brown around might not be such a bad idea.
- Josh Childress got some decent run with 19 minutes, and had mixed results. He scored his first three points on a buzzer-beating 3 to end the third quarter and added 6 rebounds, but he was also part of the bench crew that seemed to be doing all it could to make this game interesting after the starters built the lead. I still think he'd fit better with the starting unit, but as long as Brown keeps delivering there, that's not likely to happen.
- If you get the chance, check out the Grant Hill feature on "Oprah's Master Class". It aired at 7PM PDT tonight on the OWN channel (I didn't know it existed before tonight) and is an autobiographical interview with Hill in which he discusses his family, upbringing and lessons learned in his life. I've seen about half of it now in the background as I'm writing this and highly recommend it. It's certainly easy to be a Grant Hill fan. The word "classy" constantly comes to mind, and the league could use more like him.