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Preview: Slumping Suns start four game road trip against Hornets

After a strong start the Suns are limping into December with losses piling up like presents under the Christmas tree.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Charlotte Hornets
Glad the headband didn’t become a thing.
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns (8-10) at Charlotte Hornets (8-13)

When: 5:00 p.m. AZ

Where: Spectrum Center, Charlotte, NC

Watch: Fox Sports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM

Injuries: Suns - Aron Baynes (questionable) left calf strain, Mikal Bridges (questionable) left quad contusion, Cameron Johnson (questionable) illness, Ty Jerome (probable) right ankle, Cheick Diallo (out) illness, DeAndre Ayton (out) suspension.

Hornets - Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (doubtful) calf.

Nothing like a losing streak to cut short a protracted hiatus from game coverage.

Trust me, I’m not here to dance on the grave of the early season success. I was looking forward to this when Dave begged me to come back I volunteered. The Suns were off to a 5-2 start and some people were already murmuring about playoffs.

Fast forward to now and people are murmuring about different things... like whether all the momentum from the first seven games is unraveling like an ugly Christmas sweater. The Suns have lost six out of seven and are 3-8 since their hot start.

The Suns most recent loss was an “add insult to suspension injury” situation as Luka Doncic torched the Suns for 42 points, 11 assists and 9 rebounds. Meanwhile, the Suns #1 overall selection from that drafts remains sidelined.

Before that was a 140-132 loss to the Wizards in which Washington reached at least 32 points in every quarter.

Defense has become a glaring issue, with the Suns giving up at least 116 points in seven of their last eight losses.

Injuries have not helped the Suns cause. Baynes, who returned for the Mavericks game, missed five games with a hip flexor. The Suns were 1-4 while he was out. Ricky Rubio also essentially missed five games (he tried to suit up for one of them, but was ineffective and only logged 16 minutes). The Suns were 1-4 in those games.

Already shorthanded due to Ayton’s absence, these injuries have been back breakers.

Devin Booker leads the charge with 24.5 points and 6.3 assists per game, but the defensive tenacity he brought early in the season seems to have waned and at times his role in the offense seems a little bit disjointed.

Oubre has played second fiddle and is averaging 17.5 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. Baynes, like Oubre, is having a career year with 14.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while also hitting at a .439 clip from three point range.

Booker (.419) and Cameron Johnson (.400) are also shooting at or above 40% from the three point line and the Suns sit at 8th in the league (.369). That is a welcome improvement from last season when the Suns ranked dead last.

In fact, the Suns are 6th in the league in scoring, 6th in TS%, 2nd in assists, 2nd in FT% (10th in attempts) and 22nd (9th best) in turnovers. The offense seems to be humming along.

The defense, now down to 18th in DRtg after an impressive start, just hasn’t looked the same. The Suns will look to reverse that trend against a Hornets team that isn’t necessarily an offensive dynamo.

While the Suns have given up at least 116 points in five of their last six games, the Hornets have only reached 116 points once in their past 10 games. Something has to give (hopefully not the Suns defense - they’ve been way too invested in this Christmas spirit of giving).

The Hornets have been struggling in their own right. They are 2-6 in their last eight games, with both wins coming against the Detroit Pistons. They’ve actually beaten the Pistons three times recently (weird scheduling), but are just 1-10 in their last 11 games against teams not from Detroit. The Suns aren’t from Detroit, so hopefully that works in their favor. Not being from Detroit usually works out in people’s favor.

The last loss, and most recent game, was a 137-96 bludgeoning by the Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo broke his double-double streak at 19 games despite going for 26 points and nine rebounds in less than 20 minutes.

That savage beating might work against the Suns, though, as Charlotte returns home to start a five game homestand and is surely looking to regroup from that nightmarish game.

Devonte Graham has exploded on the scene for the Hornets. After a bit role as a rookie, the second year player has taken over a starting role and is averaging 18.2 points and 7.4 assists per game. He joins Terry Rozier (the one that got away) in a diminutive backcourt (both players are 6’1”). Rozier is also chipping in 17.5 points and 4.1 assists per game.

The Hornets have gone to a youth movement with Miles Bridges and PJ Washington starting and Malik Monk playing the most minutes coming off the bench. All three players are just 21 years old.

The Hornets defense has been near the bottom of the league, surrendering the fourth highest three point percentage, the second highest field goal percentage and the most assists in the league.

This game mostly comes down to two questions.

Are the Suns ready to put in the necessary effort on the defensive end?

And do they have enough healthy bodies to do so?

This is the start of four road games in six days and anything less than a split will probably cause the Suns to slip further down the standings into unwelcome, yet familiar, territory.

The goal for tonight should probably be to give up less than 116 points to an offensively challenged Hornets team. These are the types of games the Suns need to win if they want to get that murmuring about the playoffs going again.

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