PHOENIX — Everyone was expecting a test against the Hornets in tonight’s game. If it was a test, the Suns aced it, and got some extra credit.
By absolutely ripping the Hornets 124-104, the Suns set up one of the biggest games of this young season against the Lakers tomorrow night.
But before we start making predictions about the showdown in the City of Angels, let’s actually take a minute to appreciate an incredible performance from the Suns tonight.
I thought this would be a test for the Suns like most did, but I guess I didn’t realize how much the Hornets have fallen since last year. Losing Tyson Chandler hurt and the chemistry just isn’t there for this team with new additions like Emeka Okafor. It turned out that this wasn’t much of a test at all, but rather a breather for the Suns’ starters.
The win makes this group only the second team in the Suns’ 42-year history to start 8-1 and it puts them in a category with the Boston Celtics as the only two NBA teams with eight wins.
The Suns attacked early and often, scoring an NBA season-high 75 first half points. At the halfway mark the Suns were up 75-56 and four starters were in double figures. And what’s more embarrassing (for the Hornets that is), the Suns outrebounded New Orleans 23-9, with Phoenix corralling 10 offensive rebounds.
You read that right. The Phoenix Suns had more offensive rebounds than the Hornets rebounds total. Granted, the Suns did shoot 63 percent in the first half, including 72.7 percent in the first quarter, so there were fewer rebounds to collect for New Orleans.
“I thought we played about as well as we could have the first half,” said Suns head coach Alvin Gentry. “Offensively I thought we did a good job of staying in attack mode.”
The bench players saw decent minutes in the second quarter with Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley and Lou Amundson each playing more than half the quarter. Dragic sank two deep balls and Amudson made what most fans would call the highlight play of the night with a powerful block on a Hilton Armstrong layup. I saw it. It was downright nasty.
With a comfortable lead, the Suns came out in the third quarter determined to seal up a victory. With a 10-2 run to start the quarter, the Suns set the tone for the rest of the night, essentially winning the game in three quarters of basketball.
“We talked a lot at halftime about trying to win the third quarter,” Gentry said. “We thought is was really important.”
From there, the Suns switched on cruise control and took it easy. Channing Frye was the only starter to play in the final 12 minutes.
This bench continues to prove that it is among the league’s best and least talked about units, scoring 47 points in the game. Amundson is coming in and making big plays on defense. Dragic is pushing the tempo and scrapping on every play, forcing everyone else on the floor to keep up defensively. On top of that, Goran Dragic finished with 14 points and seven assists — numbers almost as good as Nash’s in this one. And I haven’t forgotten about Jared Dudley, who has become the leader of the Suns’ bench. He finished a solid performance with 11 points and four rebounds.
The thing everyone was talking about before the game (besides the fact that the Lakers were next) was the Nash-Chris Paul showdown. Gentry noted before the game that it is always fun to watch those two play each other, and it was. Nash crossed Paul in the first before dishing to Jason Richardson for a bucket. Paul was shooting over defenders with ease.
On paper it looks like Paul won the matchup, finishing with 25 points and six assists to Nash’s 12 and 10. But Nash was making plays happen for his entire team. He was setting guys up, dishing to the post and simply running the offense better than it’s been all season.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, Nash’s passes (both assists and hockey assists) led to 13 Phoenix makes in 26 attempts whereas Paul’s dishes led to six makes in 12 attempts.
Nash has more assists through the first nine games this season than he did in his MVP seasons. He is playing amazing basketball right now and really had the Hornets’ number tonight. Paul seemed to be doing all the work himself, just surrounded by bodies to field a five-man team.
The Suns also shot a season-high 55.4 percent from the field to the Hornets’ 44.7 percent.
“Tonight we were able to get in and play great basketball for the first three quarters and the starters had a chance to rest,” Stoudemire said. “The second unit played great and got the win for us.”
The Suns kept up their hot three-point shooting, going 13-of-26 against New Orleans. The team eclipsed the 100 three-pointers made mark, becoming the fastest team in NBA history to get there. The previous record was 10 games, held by the 2008-2009 New York Knicks.
One of the biggest things to take away from this game was very good team play. There are guys who naturally stand out statistically, but this team is playing very well as a unit. No one seems to care who is getting the baskets. They all seem totally focused on nothing but wins. Eight players scored in double figures during this game.
“I think we can play even better,” Suns guard Jason Richardson said. “The funny thing is, I don’t even think we’re running yet.”
If this team isn’t at its best yet, the rest of the league should be worried.
- Peja Stojakovic is terrible. I never really thought I’d be saying that, but the man is garbage. He’s averaging 8.7 points per game and seems to have forgotten how to shoot the basketball. The man once regarded as one of the league’s best shooters failed to notch a single point in 23 minutes and was a minus 16 on the floor. He was literally no help to his team, possibly even hurting them.
- Gang rebounding is working for the Suns. As I noted, they outrebounded New Orleans big time. They are even getting offensive boards, which leads me to believe that the Hornets’ interior is kind of weak as well. The fact that I didn’t even mention David West, who finished with 10 points, until now is pretty surprising. But with everyone crashing the boards all the time, the rebounding has gone from sore spot to bright spot.
- The Suns improved to 4-0 against the Western Conference this season, their best start against the West since the 1997-1998 season.
- The win was the Suns’ third at home this season and 12th straight overall in US Airways Center.