Game On: New Orleans Hornets @ Phoenix Suns

Published: December 26, 2011

And… We’re Back!! It’s been a tough couple of months for Hornets fans, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Gone are franchise cornerstones Chris Paul and David West and their patented pick and pop. Instead, the Hornets will rely less on star power and more on teamwork, toughness, and intensity. The roster is full of hungry players with something to prove, and a glance up and down the roster shows that this is one of the youngest teams in the NBA, as the Hornets do not a single player in their 30’s.

Meanwhile, the story reads almost entirely different for this Phoenix Suns. They’ve had very little turnover to a roster that features a 37 year old starting point guard and a 39 year old starting small forward. Minor additions have been made, in the form of rookie first round pick Markieff Morris and former Laker Shannon Brown, but this is primarily the same roster that went 40-42 last year.

Phoenix appears to be bidding time, giving it one last run at the playoffs with their Golden Boy Steve Nash before he becomes a free agent next summer and a total rebuild takes place. Due to their roster consistancy, depth, and coaching continuity, Phoenix might actually be a tough team in this shortened season despite their age. Nash has always kept in phonomenal shape and Grant Hill is a young 39 (if there is such a thing). While other teams struggle to jell early on, don’t be surprised to see Phoenix get off to a hot start and become a dark horse for one of those final playoff spots in the West.

When the Hornets have the ball:

In season’s past, Chris Paul would just eat Steve Nash alive whenever these two matched up. Not only is Paul gone, but so is starting point guard Jarrett Jack, who is serving a one game suspension for a DUI incident last year. And you know they say bad news comes in three’s, so here goes. The Hornets will also be without their leading scorer from the last time these two met, as Willie Green has taken his talent to South Georgia. That’s right, it was against Phoenix last year that Willie had the magical game in which he started 12 for 12 and finished with 31 points. Man, last year seems like so long ago.

What the Hornets do have, however, is some low post firepower that should be able to take advantage of the Suns less than steller interior defense and a matchup nightmare in Eric Gordon. Phoenix will likely start the game with Josh Childress on Gordon, but Childress does not have the quickness or the strength to stay in front of Gordon- and neither does Grant Hill. The only guy who might be able to take away the drive from Gordon in this game is Shannon Brown, but Gordon’s physicality will be too much for the one-dimensional Brown.

Jack’s absence, combined with the Suns inability to match up with Gordon, might result in Gordon facilitating a majority of the offense. Gordon showed vast improvement in running the pick and roll last season, and will have multiple guys he can run it with tonight in Smith, Kaman, Okafor, and Landry. Don’t be surprised if Trevor Ariza and Marco Belinelli pick up some of the playmaking duties as well during Jack’s absence. The last time Ariza played on the wing next to a high scoring shooting guard, he averaged over 5.5 assists per game and less than two turnovers. Belinelli, meanwhile, has more freedom than he did last season now that Paul is gone and that should result in him showcasing more of his ball handling and playmaking skills as he slides over to the second unit.

Make no mistake, though, this game will be won or lost in the paint tonight. Phoenix often goes small, playing Jared Dudley at the 4, and even when they go more conventional, string beans Channing Frye and Hakim Warrick man the low post for over 60 combined minutes per game. Landry and Kaman will need to take advantage by scoring until Phoenix is forced to double, and Okafor will need to work his magic on the offensive glass to create extra shots for an offense that is bound to struggle in stretches.

When Phoenix has the ball:

As usual, their offense begins and ends with Steve Nash, but don’t be surprised to see Marcin Gortat get a lot of touches in their half court offense. Phoenix likes what they have in Gortat, and as this team passes the torch, Gortat will be the one taking it from Steve Nash. Once raw, Gortat has since developed an all-around game on the offensive end, as he is able to both score inside and drill the mid-range jumper.

Small forward Jared Dudley has returned this season having lost quite a bit of weight as he hopes to take his game to the next level on both ends of the court. Already a deadly outside shooter, Dudley has also added some versitility to his game this offseason and could easily be a sixth man of the year candidate. He will likely see minutes at the three and the four tonight, and when he is playing that stretch four, the Hornets will have to counter with someone like Aminu because Landry or Okafor won’t be able to chase him off screens and contest his shots from outside.

Last year the Hornets were often happy conceding the outside shot if it meant keeping teams out of the paint, but that strategy is likely to backfire against Phoenix. Other than Nash, Phoenix does not really have a player who can put the ball on the floor and finish or create for others now that Aaron Brooks is playing ball thousands of miles in China. Instead, look for the Hornets to close out quickly and make the Suns beat them by taking shots outside of their comfort zone.

Other News and Notes:

* Vegas Zone- Phoenix opened as 7.5 point favorites, but that has recently dropped to 6.5 as most of the early betting ha seen the sharps taking the Hornets money line or plus the points. The current line is down to 6.5.

* Our second favorite team is in action tonight as well! Of course I am talking about the WIPTT’s (Whoever Is Playing The Timberwolves). The WIPTT’s feature Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and are looking to go 2-0 tonight, while dropping those hated T’Wolves to 0-1.

* NBA 2K12 sim- Hornets win 104-98 behind 36 from Eric Gordon and 17 from Chris Kaman. 2K expects Shannon Brown to give us problems off the bench as he went for 20 in his Phoenix debut.

* Greivis Vasquez is likely to play and might even start, but newly signed power forward Gustavo Ayon can not play due to Visa issues. Perhaps he maxed it out on Holiday gifts.

* Vegas Zone 2- Interesting bet that Vegas has posted. Drew Brees passing yards tonight vs. total points scored in Hornets/Suns game plus 100. What would you take?

* Mikestradamous prediction! Yeah, I am gonna go with this nickname until I wear it out or until my predictions stop coming true. Here goes: Suns 97 Hornets 91. Phoenix is in the same system with a lot of the same players and the Hornets will have too many stretches of bad offense to pull this game out. On a bright note, however, Mikestradamous also forecasts a Timberwolves loss! 2012 draft baby!



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