Preview: Phoenix Suns (38-40) at New Orleans Hornets (45-33)

New Orleans Hornets 109, Phoenix Suns 97

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The Phoenix Suns expected everything to be on the line tonight against a New Orleans Hornets squad that two weeks ago they seemed to have a legitimate chance of catching.

At the time the Suns still were seeking a miracle, but it seemed to be a doable miracle if the team were to get hot down the stretch as they did a year ago.

A victory over the Hornets back on March 25 in US Airways Center would have brought them within two games of New Orleans in the loss column with this game still to go. Sure, the Suns’ stretch run has been daunting, but that’s a doable scenario since Phoenix would have owned the tiebreaker by winning on March 25 and tonight.

Instead the Hornets put the Suns’ season into checkmate in a game Alvin Gentry feels his Suns would have won if not for the unfortuitous collision between Steve Nash and Marcin Gortat that knocked the Suns’ center out of the game late in the third quarter with a fractured nose when he had already posted a double-double.

The bottom fell out after that with Phoenix losing six of seven starting with the Hornets loss before Wednesday’s win in Minnesota once realistic postseason aspirations had all but ended.

The Suns still have somewhat of a chance to play the spoiler role with New Orleans currently sitting seventh in the West, just a half game behind Portland for sixth and a game up on No. 8 Memphis.

The Hornets have posted a 4-2 mark since leading scorer and second-leading rebounder David West went down with a torn ACL, including Wednesday’s win over Houston that clinched a playoff spot.

That stretch started with New Orleans’ win over the Suns two weeks ago, a game in which Chris Paul took over late and Carl Landry replaced much of West’s production with 19 points and six boards, almost exactly what West produces on an average night.

On the Phoenix side it’s more of the same, just continuing to build continuity for next season.

It was nice to see Alvin Gentry leave his bench in Wednesday’s game until the finish to give those guys an opportunity to play in pressure situations (or as close to a pressure situation as you can get at this point in the year).

I’ve enjoyed getting a taste of what Josh Childress can bring to this squad. All along I’ve felt it was unfortunate that he became the 11th man in a 10-man rotation, the Earl Clark role if you will, although it was understandable since the other wings spaced better for Nash. Childress was all over the place against Minnesota, his best sequence coming in the second quarter when he scored a layup falling out of bounds and then recovered to steal the inbounds pass and dunk it.

We’re also getting to see Aaron Brooks develop more of a rapport with his teammates and most of the reserves start to find some of the rhythm they have lacked as a unit all season (except for Robin Lopez, of course).

With wins and losses no longer mattering, it will be good for the bench to log more important minutes tonight against a team in playoff mode.

UPDATE: Nash will sit tonight

According to The Arizona Republic’s Paul Coro, Steve Nash will miss tonight’s game “due to a hamstring issue that has come up on top of his recent flu bout and ongoing pubic symphysis problem.” That will allow the Suns to take a longer look at Brooks in this one as well as find some quality minutes for Zabian Dowdell. Coro also reported that Jared Dudley is “promising” the much-ballyhooed dunk No. 10 tonight.

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Tags: Josh Childress

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