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Preview: New Orleans Hornets (13-39) at Phoenix Suns (25-26)

Phoenix Suns 92, New Orleans Hornets 75



There isn’t much working in the Phoenix Suns’ favor right about now.

They’re losers of two straight and four of their last six, they remain 2 1/2 games out of the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot with only 15 games remaining, and they play seven of their next eight games away from US Airways Center.

Then add in that Grant Hill is out for what figures to be the majority of the season and it’s tough to see the Suns sneaking into the Western Conference playoff race. Momentum is tough to come by for Phoenix right now, and not even the biggest of fans would bet on this team to make the playoffs.

But history has proven that the Suns do their best work with their backs against the wall, and they have a chance to kick-start their much-needed playoff run tonight in US Airways Center against the injury-riddled New Orleans Hornets.

If there’s such thing as a must-win game in early April, this is it.

It’s games like these against teams like the Hornets where the Suns have to take care of business in order to sneak into the playoff picture, because after tonight and Tuesday on the road against the Kings, Phoenix’s schedule takes a brutal turn for the worst.

After tonight they’ll play seven of their next eight games on the road, with five of the eight teams — Denver, LAL, Memphis, Houston, and San Antonio — currently in the playoffs, and two of the other three — Minnesota and Utah — fighting for that coveted No. 8 seed.

And Phoenix’s tough remaining schedule doesn’t stop there. While the Suns play five of their final six games in US Airways Center, they have to square off against Portland, Oklahoma City, the Clippers, Denver, Utah, and San Antonio — five of which have already beat the Suns once this season.

With that said, if the Suns have any chance of making a playoff push they need to handle a Hornets team that’s lost four of its last five and is playing its fourth game in five days.

New Orleans will have heavy legs after taking the Lakers to the wire on Saturday night, and the fact that the Hornets may once again have only eight active players won’t help their chances.

While the Suns aren’t exactly the model of health — in addition to Hill they’ll be without Markieff Morris, who is sidelined with the flu — the Hornets have taken the term injury-riddled to an entire new level.

The Hornets have been without Emeka Okafor and Eric Gordon for the majority of the season, but to make matters worse they missed Carl Landry (ankle), Trevor Ariza (ankle), Chris Kaman (bronchitis), and Carlos Ayon (personal reasons) against the Lakers.

New Orleans starting point guard and only real viable offensive weapon Jarrett Jack also played Saturday’s game with a sore ankle as he limped around Staples Center. The Hornets’ host of injuries combined with their 8-18 road record and Phoenix’s treacherous remaining schedule makes tonight’s game a win-or-go-home type of contest.

Shannon Brown needs to continue to step up in the absence of Hill and the Suns have to recapture the formula that helped them win nine of their first 11 games after the All-Star break. Because if Phoenix can’t defeat a tired, injured Hornets team at home tonight after having three days off, they can all but kiss their playoff hopes goodbye.

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