Hornets 104, Suns 91 – Outmanned, outplayed


It would have been a stretch to expect anything but a loss facing a New Orleans Hornets team in their own backyard without Steve Nash and Shaquille O’Neal.

You could say the Suns were better off defensively without Chris Paul destroying Shaq and Nash on a pick-and-roll at any point tonight, but without two of the team’s three most critical offensive players they were lucky to surpass the 90-point barrier in their 104-91 loss, their sixth straight to the Hornets and third in a row overall.

When I found out Shaq (rest) and Nash (flu) would be sitting this one out, I thought the Suns’ only chance would be for Amare to put up one of those monster games that make him think he’s in the company of LeBron and D-Wade.

Scoring-wise Amare played a capable game with a team-high 26 points on 11-for-19 shooting, but he was pretty abysmal in every other category.

He wasn’t exactly Indiana Game Amare, turning the ball over five times in the first half alone (six total) and dishing just one assist while picking up five fouls and another stupid technical in a game he had no business coming so close to another rejection.

Worst of all, STAT didn’t grab a single rebound in the first half, finishing with just four for the game. You would think a 6-foot-10 gifted athlete like Amare would at least pick up a board or two by pure luck.

On one particular instance, a ball bounced off Amare’s hands off a New Orleans free-throw attempt before a Hornet corralled the board instead. Is he even trying out there or does it just look like he’s not?

On the opposite end, Hornets forward David West pulled in a game-high 14 rebounds, while scoring 23 points against Amare’s defense. When the guy you’re guarding grabs 10 more rebounds than you, what does it say about your effort?

The only Suns to really rebound were their small forwards, as Matt Barnes grabbed a team-high seven and Grant Hill six.

Because of that, the Suns were outrebounded 46-30 and yielded 28 second-chance points.

It’s no surprise that the Suns were killed on the boards by Tyson Chandler, West and Co. with Shaq sitting, as the Suns were the worst rebounding team in the NBA last year before the Shaq trade, but his replacement Robin Lopez didn’t even corral a single carom in his 20 minutes of work.

It’s hard to ever fault Lopez’s motor since he’s so active, but there’s obviously a problem when an athletic 7-footer goes 20 minutes without collecting a single board.

Although Lopez has been great blocking shots, rebounding hasn’t been a forte all year.

He averages just 7.6 rebounds per 40 minutes, which is worse than the rates of Amare, Barnes and Lou Amundson and a good chunk worse than Shaq’s. If Lopez wants to earn floor time despite his limited offensive game, he’s got to do a much better job on the boards.

And in games like tonight in which the Suns know they’re without the Big Fellow, everybody’s got to make an extra effort to hit the boards hard.

Amare and Robin Lopez did not do so, New Orleans killed Phoenix on second-chance points, and that’s why the Suns lost.

It wasn’t all bad

A number of positives came of a game that was more competitive than I expected before New Orleans’ big third-quarter run.

Despite trailing by 14 at the end of the first quarter, the Suns fought back and actually led this thing, 63-60, after an Amare flush with 4:33 left in the third. The Suns played a fantastic second quarter to get back into it, outscoring New Orleans by 13 in the stanza. They also committed just 13 turnovers for the game.

Hill reverted back to Detroit Pistons form with what used to be a typical 17-point, six-board, six-assist night that’s few and far between these days. Hill often initiated the offense, and he seems to thrive in situations where he’s afforded such responsibility.

He also played well with his usual sub counterpart, Barnes, who chipped in with a very solid 13 and seven line in his first appearance off the bench.

Leandro Barbosa also made a nice contribution with 19 points as the starting “point guard.”

Besides Barbosa subbing for Nash and Lopez for Shaq in the starting lineup, head coach Terry Porter also inserted Hill for Barnes for the first time this season, and obviously it worked. However, in the long run I still think the Suns are better off with Barnes starting and Hill off the bench.

It was the right call in this game, and frankly any other contest Nash misses, because aside from the backup point guards Porter has lost confidence in, Hill is the only other Sun who can really run an offense.

For an indication of how far Dragic has fallen, the rookie did not even log a single minute in tonight’s game, the only available Phoenix player not to enter. How many minutes do you think he will play when Nash suits up?

Singletary didn’t do much more, logging just seven minutes in which he missed a pair of shots and committed a pair of fouls. He did not play in the second half.

Particularly when Porter stops playing Singletary or Dragic at all down the road, I like using a bench lineup of Hill and Barbosa when Nash sits. That way you get some playmaking with Hill and some punch with Barbosa, and with a playmaker in Boris Diaw also a part of this second unit, in theory that unit should prevent the customary dry spells when Nash sits.

Hill has been terribly inconsistent this season, with some very solid games mixed in with some stinkers, but I think giving him more playmaking responsibility with the second unit should help him put up more performances like tonight’s.