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Game Preview: Will the Phoenix Suns get stung by the Charlotte Hornets?

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Both teams try to break losing streaks in an afternoon game.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns @ Charlotte Hornets

When: 3:00 pm (Phoenix time)

TV: Fox Sports Arizona

Radio: 98.7 FM


Believe it or not, in some ways the Hornets are in a worse position than the Suns. Overall, they have a more talented team but it’s also one that’s not quite good enough to make the playoffs this year but also not bad enough to get a really high pick in the draft. They are also well over the salary cap and will stay there next season unless they can find a way to shed some salary.

Since they still have a mathematical chance of making the playoffs and tanking will really do them no good at this point, we normally would expect them to play hard for a win. But according to starting PF Marvin Williams, “Right now, we’re just not giving the effort we need to give.”

If that holds true in today's game, perhaps the Suns will have a chance at getting win #20. But to do that they will have to come ready to play and energetic... something that we all know that they don’t always do. And they could possibly be much more short handed than usual due to injuries which is another strike against the possibility of getting a win. A very big strike. More on that later.

The Hornets (28-38)

Probable Starting Lineup: Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams and Dwight Howard

The Hornets are 5-5 in their last 10 games but are also on a 5 game losing streak. Their latest loss was 125-111 to the Nets... at home. They are not playing well at the moment but that could easily change today.

Kemba Walker leads them in scoring (22.9) and assists (5.7) while Dwight Howard is their second leading scorer (15.9) and leading rebounder (12.1). Nicolas Batum is also averaging double figures in scoring (11.7) while playing the part of secondary distributor with 5.3 assists per game. Sixth year player Jeremy Lamb and Frank Kaminsky provide scoring off the bench (13.3 and 10.8 ppg respectively).

As a team, the Hornets are - like the Suns - one of the worst shooting teams in the NBA. While they are actually a pretty good 3 point shooting team (36.7%, 9th in the NBA), overall they are just barely better than the Suns. Their team field goal percentage is 44.5 (26th) verses 44.1 for the Suns (28th) so expect a lot of missed shots by both sides today.

Defensively the Hornets are only a middle of the road team at 17th (DEFRTG - 106.6) but that far outclasses the Suns who are dead last (DEFRTG - 110.6). Offensively Charlotte is again in the middle of the pack at 14th (OFFRTG - 105.7) which is also far above the Suns at 29th (OFFRTG - 101.4).

Team Leaders

Points: Kemba Walker (22.9)

Rebounds: Dwight Howard (12.1)

Assists: Kemba Walker (5.7)

The Suns (19-48)

Probable Starting Lineup: Elfrid Payton and ???

If all four of these guys are out for this game, you can call it a loss before the opening tip. Tyson Chandler has been in and out all season long so the Suns can and have played with a center rotation of Alex Len and Dragan Bender with a little Marquese Chriss thrown in from time to time so that’s not a huge problem. But if Devin Booker, T.J. Warren and Josh Jackson are out, that is a huge problem. And not just in case the Suns want to win the game. I’m not even sure the rest of the team could keep it competitive with all four gone.

With Warren listed as doubtful, we have to assume he will miss the game. With Booker, Jackson and Chandler listed as questionable, it’s possible - perhaps even likely - that at least one of them plays.

Unless the Suns have decided to stack the deck in their quest for a really high pick in this year’s draft.

If all four do miss this game, my guess is that Jay Triano will start Elfrid Payton, Shaquille Harrison, Troy Daniels, Dragan Bender and Alex Len. That lineup would feature a mostly undersized backcourt and small forward with Harrison being the only above average defender. Or perhaps Triano would try putting Bender in at small forward and start Chriss at power forward alongside Len with either Daniels or Harrison at shooting guard? Either way, the Suns would be going into this game with a mismatched starting five and a roster that has even less depth than usual.

And it’s not as if the Suns needed even more problems going into this game.

If Booker does play, we all know that he is going to give it his all (25.3 ppg) but someone else is also going to have to put some points on the scoreboard too. In Thursday’s loss to OKC, only Tyson Chandler joined Devin in double figure scoring (10 points). That can’t happen again... especially with so many Suns players possibly out today.

If you thought the team’s overall shooting averages were bad against the Thunder, when you remove Booker’s 10-22 and Chandler’s 4-4 shooting from the equation, the rest of the Suns shot a horrid 25.8% for the game. And without Booker’s 4-9 three point shooting, the rest of the team shot a putrid 17.8% from downtown. That’s a recipe for not just a loss, but one for an embarrassing loss.

If that happens again, this one could be over early even though the Hornets aren’t quite as formidable as OKC. Hopefully, not everyone on the injured list will be out for this game or the rest of the Suns can at least keep it fairly competitive on the scoreboard without them. But whether the injured play or not, the rest of the team still needs to come ready to play and play hard. Whether it comes from Dragan Bender or Marquese Chriss, the team needs to get some points from the PF position. Elfrid Payton needs to bounce back after two mediocre games against Miami and OKC. Troy Daniels needs to do way better than 2-15 on his field goal attempts. Everyone needs to give maximum effort on the defensive side.

We all know the various things that the Suns need to do better to hopefully get a win today. Unfortunately, in some cases I’m not sure that they can do better. We’ve all seen very good players like Devin Booker occasionally have bad games. But I’m beginning to wonder if the Suns don’t also have a few very bad players who occasionally have good games.

Team Leaders

Points: Devin Booker (25.3)

Rebounds: Tyson Chandler (9.2)

Assists: Elfrid Payton (7.5)

Summary

This could be a winnable game for the Suns but only if at least a couple of the walking wounded heal up enough to play. With as many as four key players possibly out, it could turn into another ugly loss to a team that normally doesn’t hand out ugly losses to other teams. But whether they play or not, some of the other players on the Suns’ roster still need to step up their games. Win or lose, the fans at least deserve to see some effort and heart - from everyone - out on the court.

UPDATE: