Preview: New Orleans Hornets (41-31) at Phoenix Suns (36-34)

New Orleans Hornets 106, Phoenix Suns 100



PHOENIX — With 12 games remaining and a three-game deficit for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference — not to mention a brutal road trip on the horizon — the Phoenix Suns understand their playoff hopes are bleak.

But while Suns fans keep waiting for a Rudy Gay-less Memphis squad to start losing, Phoenix’s best chance at a playoff spot comes in the form of catching the New Orleans Hornets (and staving off the Houston Rockets).

The Suns would need to play four games better than the Grizzlies down the stretch thanks to the three-game lead plus the tiebreaker they hold over the Suns.

The Hornets lead the Suns by four games but it’s just three in the loss column and the Suns have a shot to pin two losses on New Orleans plus gain the tiebreaker during their final 12, starting with tonight’s absolutely must-win game against Chris Paul and the Hornets.

Even if the Suns win both against New Orleans, it will be a tall task with two games remaining against the Spurs and Mavericks, one in Chicago and a home game against Oklahoma City. The Suns essentially need to win all six of their remaining home games and split on the road, and even then they would need a fair bit of help.

But if the Suns don’t beat New Orleans we can forget about all realistic scenarios and start watching the NCAA Tournament to look at lottery picks.

The Hornets will be arriving to town late after a wild overtime win that essentially knocked the Utah Jazz out of playoff contention. New Orleans needed a buzzer-beating Emeka Okafor awkward jumper on a length of the floor pass to send it to OT, where they prevailed.

However, the news was not all good in Salt Lake for the Hornets as star forward David West appeared to blow out his knee after a gruesome fall on a drive that resulted in him being carried out on a wheelchair. West averages 18.9 points and 7.6 rebounds per game and combines with Paul on a bread-and-butter pick-and-roll, so if the injury is as serious as it appears his presence will be sorely missed, especially Friday in what could be a shell shock game for the Hornets facing the possibility of missing West the rest of the season.

Even without West, the Hornets’ lead is lengthy enough and the Suns’ schedule is daunting enough that the Hollinger Playoff Odds giving Phoenix just a 6.2 percent chance of reaching postseason play doesn’t seem far from the truth, especially considering how well Houston is playing these days.

But if the Suns want to extend hope into next week, they have no choice but to beat the Hornets.

“We’ve got two good teams coming in that’s in the playoffs,” Aaron Brooks said. “If you want to be there you’ve got to win those games.”

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Michael Pina of Shaky Ankles gives us video of Nash crossing up CP3.

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