After outlasting the Dallas Mavericks on TNT and fending off the Houston Rockets in overtime on the road, the Phoenix Suns appear to be climbing the rollercoaster that has embodied the 2009-2010 season.
Steve Nash and company will attempt to keep that upswing going against the Chris Paul-less New Orleans Hornets tonight. Yesterday it was confirmed that Paul will undergo arthroscopic knee surgery today to repair cartilage that was torn in the Hornets’ loss to the Chicago Bulls last Friday.
CP3 is expected to miss one to two months. This news obviously changes things a little bit for the Suns, but Darren Collison is no slouch and shined in Paul’s absence when he missed eight games with a sprained ankle earlier this season. Phoenix has split the season series with the Hornets thus far (1-1), but the loss came with Collison manning the controls.
The rookie out of UCLA is coming off a 17-point, 18-assist performance in a win against the Memphis Grizzlies last night. Collison, a terrific on-ball defender, should give Steve Nash some troubles offensively and defensively.
The Suns are only one game ahead of the Hornets for the No. 7 spot in the Western Conference standings, and a win against New Orleans would give them a little bit of breathing room.
But which team, and maybe more importantly which Amare Stoudemire, will show up?
The Hornets are a stingy squad, and if the Suns give them a glimmer of hope, they are the type of team that would claw back from a lead. The Suns can’t ease off the gas if they hope to win on the road in a back-to-back situation.
Then the question becomes: Which Amare will Suns fans see? The Amare that acts like he wants to be on the court and goes for 36 and 11 on the road in Houston, or the Amare that averaged only 4.0 rebounds per contest in his last four games before the Houston win amidst swirling trade rumors?
STAT is averaging 22.0 points and 5.5 rebounds in two games against the Hornets this season and should have a tough matchup against the defensive-minded center Emeka Okafor.
The Hornets’ offensive-minded big man, David West, hasn’t had that same success in this series, as he is averaging only 8.0 points and 4.0 rebounds against the Suns this season. If the Suns can take West out of the game, the Hornets will struggle to find offense.
But stopping West and the Hornets is all mental for the Suns. They need to come out and play with the same fire and intensity that they do against the NBA’s elite. When their mentality is right, the Suns are a completely different ball club. But when they have mental lapses, don’t rebound or defend, and shut off when the game is on the line, things get ugly.
The Suns don’t have to deal with CP3 tonight, but they do have to remained focused and execute if they hope to win their third straight game for the first time since late November.
- Robin Lopez is really rounding into a formidable starting center for the Suns. He is averaging 12.7 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per contest over his last 10 games, and has been a nice contrast to Channing Frye’s perimeter-oriented game.
- Earl Clark is finally finding his niche in the rotation — averaging 8.6 minutes per game over the past five contests. Clark’s length and versatility bring a different element to the floor, even if his offensive game is not quite refined just yet.