Hornets 110, Suns 103 — Killed on the glass

The Suns simply couldn't corral the rebounds and loose balls tonight en route to a 110-103 loss. (AP Photo/Bill Haber).

The Suns simply couldn't corral the rebounds and loose balls tonight en route to a 110-103 loss. (AP Photo/Bill Haber).

Earlier this week on the ValleyoftheSuns podcast, I cited rebounding as the biggest surprise of Phoenix Suns’ early hot streak, and rightfully so. The Suns entered tonight’s contest at New Orleans outrebounding their opponents by two boards per game.

But on a night when the Suns couldn’t seem to come up with any loose balls, the Hornets took advantage and squandered my podcast analysis by murdering the Suns on the glass, 56-38.

That mind-boggling rebounding edge allowed the Hornets to sting the first-place Suns, 110-103, and what’s most mind boggling is the fact that Phoenix outboarded New Orleans 45-29 last week at USAC, a difference of 34 boards between the two games.

This time around a Hornets team without its best player and arguably the NBA’s best point guard, Chris Paul, outhustled Phoenix on the way to its fifth win of the season.

To be completely honest, New Orleans looked bad on offense through the first three quarters. It was clear the Hornets were operating without their engine, as they only shot 40.2 percent from the field for the game. But their 13 three-pointers and 38 second-chance points proved to be the difference in this Western Conference battle.

First-year Hornet Emeka Okafor set the tone early for New Orleans, posting an impressive 11 points and eight boards in the first quarter. The Suns had no answer for the former UConn Husky and 2004 second overall pick, as he picked the Suns bigs apart — mostly Channing Frye.

Okafor’s rebounding was not the Hornets’ only noteworthy performance on the glass. Peja Stojakavic posted his first double-double in over 10 months — 25 points and 13 rebounds — and quite frankly played out of his mind. Peja played like it was 2003, but the Suns made it awfully easy for the Serbian, allowing him to knock down 6-of-10 three-pointers, the majority of which came on wide-open looks.

Stojakovic came into the contest only averaging 10 points per game and put up a goose egg against the Suns in their first meeting of the season, going 0-for-8 from the field. But the Suns simply gave him and his New Orleans Hornets teammates far too many chances to pull out a victory.

New Orleans’ work on the glass was absolutely unheralded, as they corralled a ridiculous 25 offensive rebounds. That hustle and rebounding propelled the formerly 4-8 Hornets to their biggest win of the young NBA season.

The Suns never really seemed tuned in from the get-go. As has been the case most of the season, the Suns dug themselves out of a 13-point first-half deficit but could never take complete control of the game.

By looking at the box score, the Suns’ offense didn’t look all-too bad, as they had seven players in double figures, but it was clear the Suns weren’t exactly lethal from the field. They shot 45.8 percent from the field and 39.3 percent from three, both solid numbers but still below their season averages.

But even if the Suns shot 60 percent from the field, it is almost impossible to win games giving up 25 offensive rebounds and 38 second-chance points. Let me repeat that, 38 second-chance points!

Regardless of their lackluster performance on the glass, the Suns still had their chances to win this ballgame. With the game tied and just over two minutes left, Stojakovic came down and knocked a deep three over Nash to put the Hornets up three. After a Richardson air ball, rookie point guard Darren Collison hit a three of his own to virtually ice the game for New Orleans.

The Hornets pulled away late as a result of the aforementioned threes, but as I said before, the story of the game was rebounding. It seemed like it would only be a matter of time before the Suns’ rebounding was exposed. The whole gang rebounding strategy simply seemed too good to be true.

The Suns were, however, only five rebounds below their season average of 43.3, but the Hornets’ 56 rebounds — 49 of which came through three quarters — stifled the once red-hot Phoenix Suns.

Frye finished with his second 10-rebound effort of the season, but regardless of his rebounding total, he was dominated early and often by Okafor. Stoudemire was no better on the glass, as he only managed to grab a measly five rebounds. Almost every Sun was around their season averages in points, but they were unable to do what they have done the majority of the season — grind out a victory.

Through three quarters this contest looked very much like previous games in which the Suns erased big deficits to come back and win against Miami, Philadelphia, Toronto and Houston. But that comeback magic just wasn’t there tonight for the Suns, and Alvin Gentry and the boys will have to take a serious look at their effort on the glass after this one, because they were flat-out embarrassed.

While the Suns definitely aren’t expected to win every game, New Orleans sent this team back to the rebounding drawing board, something that probably had to happen eventually. Unlike the first 12 games of the season, the Suns weren’t tough enough tonight and couldn’t find a way to continue that grind-it-out, comeback kid mentality.

And 1

  • On the bright side, Jared Dudley continued his quest for the NBA’s most improved player award. He connected on his first four shot attempts, all threes, and finished the game 5-of-7 for 17 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals. Dudley was one of the few bright spots for this Suns team tonight.
  • As Schwartz pointed out in the game thread, the Suns lost their 16th straight game on TNT. Call it a coincidence, but I call it a curse.
  • The Suns have topped the 100-point mark in every game this season. The last Suns team to do that through 13 games was the 1988-89 Suns.

  • Jason Ellis

    I used to play ball in the park, and there was a guy who would show up and get pissed-off when the other guys on his team wouldn't play as hard as he did.

    I think Steve Nash and Jared Dudley should be pissed off at the other guys for their lack of hustle tonight. I know it's a long season, but there's no excuse for this lackadaisical effort.

    Even if they had done as little as gotten a few more rebounds that led to a couple more shots for the Suns and a couple less for the Hornets, the Suns would have won.

    No excuse.

  • John C.

    I had to sleep on that loss overnight before jotting down some thoughts because if I had done this right after the game concluded, there would have been some expletives deleted. First off, I’ve seen guys playing on the weekend at a park with nothing to gain hustle more than the starting group did last night. Second, if everyone on the team played with energy and desire that Jared Dudley plays with, this team COULD be very good. Amar’e is still not 100% admittedly at this point in the season, but I don’t believe he is a max player. The Suns have been reading too many of their press clippings and were brought back down to earth last night. I am very surprised their veterans would allow an effort such as last night’s. Two steps forward and one step back. I’ll be anxious to see how the team responds in the next game.

  • asani

    Unacceptable plain and simple. Every season I order the nba package to look at the suns play and they always give a bs performance about 10-15 times a year. All I know is the suns at times seem to not know what they want to do on offense and just lose interest in defending and rebounding at times. My first question is, why don't the suns give Amare the ball more because he is the only consistent next to nash and dudley? Secondly when is Frye actually going to start hitting threes on the road? Lastly, why don't j rich drive more and stop shooting jumpers everytime he touches the rock? I just need these guys to play like they care

  • The Z. Man

    “Just need these guys to play like they care.” Very well said, Mr. Asani.

    Suns have been very fortunate to get away with the wrong starting lineup. When they finish with Dudley and LB, they make everyone forget the shortcomings of the starting five. Dumb and dumber. Mike Dumb Antoni would never learn from his mistakes. Hope that Gentry does not fall into the same trap. Easy to become complacent when “Mr. 4th Quarter” (Nash) saves the coach’s rear game after game. When we realize who are, by far, our MOST competitive gang of five, as we seem to do at the end of the game, we will need to take that next step. Suns starting lineup just does not get the job done.

    When we dig ourselves a 15-2 early hole (and 11- to – ZERO on the boards), that should send a clear message to our coaching staff. Why spot a big lead to each team we play? Sure, the right group of five can and will overcome this poor play. What happens if we don’t get hot at the end of the game and the other team does? Just what used to happen under Porter. We lose. “After a Richardson air ball”. That sort of sloppiness should not be allowed at the end of the game. Nash talks about mental toughness being our biggest advantage. When it comes to being mentally tough, the imature and lackidaisical Richardson is definitely our “weak link.” Suns’ starting five should be our most competitive guys. This way, we can build upon our lead, instead of needing to be hot to overcome the opposition’s lead. When we start the following guys, we will win running away: 1) Nash; 2) LB (the Brazilian Blur who is the most competitive and experienced running mate for Nash – just ask Nash); 3) our other new dad J-Dud the stud (who will elevate the hustle and intensity of the starting team); 4) Grant Hill; and 5) STAT (who is prone to following the intensity level of those around him so if we want him to play his best we must surround him with our best). That still leaves LOTS of fire power coming off the bench, but with 40 minutes per game for LB and 35 for J-Dud, it won’t matter that much.

    MUST start and ALSO finish with LB. Let’s go SUNS!!!!

  • Bart Cillekens

    Defense is defenitely the soft spot of the Suns and Gentry will have to make some adjustments as the season progresses. Suns objective for every game should to keep their opponents under 100 points – following the logic of their own scoring more than 100 points in each game they should win most of the games. This defensive strategy calls for a different starting 5 as already highlighted. Secondly the Suns must increase their game tempo – given the age of Nash and Hill this means they will have to use their bench more, give Dragic, Collins Griffin and Tucker more minutes. Thirdly start using Earl Clark, he’s got talent he just needs to get playing time….other teams are getting big contributions from their rookies so why shouldn’t the Suns? Finally, as the season prgresses and the Suns are finding themselves in a position to secure a playoff spot they will have to start thinking about strengthening the team defensively. If Lopez makes it back and establishes himself as a defensive force in the paint you still need to get some gritty perimeter defenders. Move Barbosa to starting guard and trade JRich together with Tucker and if Clark has developed well also trade Frye and get some really strong defensive guard and a rebounding PF to avoid an exit in the first round.