Suns 109, Hornets 100 — Three in a row (finally)


It’s been such a long time since the Phoenix Suns won three games in a row that it feels like it last happened in a completely different season.

But just as everybody started to write off the Suns following a stretch of seven losses in nine games capped by back-to-back crushing losses against Utah and Charlotte, Phoenix has presented its fans with a sliver of hope by finally winning that elusive third straight game after downing New Orleans on Monday night, 109-100.

The Suns last won three in a row while finishing off a four-game winning streak Nov. 22-29, wins that culminated in Phoenix’s 14-3 start.

At the time it was the Suns’ third four-game winning streak of the season, so who could have thought the Suns would fail to win even three in a row again before the calendar turned to February? Hell, since then they have only won multiple games twice, and those came in a four out of five stretch around New Year’s.

All is still not perfect on Planet Orange. The Suns blew a 20-point lead like it was nothing once again, but that’s not what I’m focusing on tonight because Phoenix showed the resolve to pull through with a victory, grinding out a pair of tough road wins after losing 12 of 13 away from home.

Following Tuesday’s loss to Charlotte, you could kind of see things coming apart at the seams. Besides losing seven of nine, Amare Stoudemire looked disinterested amid rampant trade speculation, and with a brutal schedule staring them in the face, you had to wonder if this team would be out of it by the All-Star break.

Maybe that’s what this squad needed. Fans and the media wrote them off. While all of the other teams at the bottom of the West were on their way up, the Suns were seemingly on their way down.

It was just like preseason, when the Suns heard everybody talking about how they’d be lucky to be the eighth seed in the loaded West. Nobody believed in them, and that’s when they came out and ran off to their 14-3 start.

A 12-18 stretch later, and that’s what this had become again. The doubters chirped louder than ever, and all the Suns have done is run off three straight gutty victories against Western Conference playoff contenders, including two road wins.

I understand that even now the Suns’ 21 losses equals the number of defeats owned by the West’s ninth-place team, the Oklahoma City Thunder. I get that three games does not undo the previous 30.

But what’s most heartening is that the Suns have played with the resolve of November, gutting out all three wins down the stretch against teams they will be battling against for playoff positioning down the road.

In particular in the last two road games, they knocked off teams they were tied with in the loss column entering the game. They now own the tiebreaker against Houston and are a win in Phoenix away from owning it against New Orleans as well. With as close as the West is, that’s huge.

After a four-game run of subpar play, Amare Stoudemire was in beast mode for the second straight night, following up Sunday’s 36 and 11 with 25 and 12 on 10-for-20 shooting.

When STAT plays like this, finishing games with overpowering drives like he did to put the Suns up six with 2:30 left, you wonder how the Suns could ever let him go. He’s not as bad as he was in the previous four or as good as he’s been in the past two, but the problem with STAT is that inconsistency and his failure to play this well all the time.

It’s nice that going on the road has focused him, but it’s a shame that he needed to “get focused” at the same time. Still, the Suns are without question a better team with Amare Stoudemire than they will be if they trade him, and a surge before the All-Star break certainly decreases the likelihood of a trade.

Along with Amare, Steve Nash was his typical self with a ho hum 18 and 12 to go with just one turnover. Through halftime of this game, Nash had recorded 23 assists to no turnovers on the road trip after going 16:0 in Houston, and I doubt anybody will complain about Nash’s 28:1 assist:turnover ratio on the trip so far.

Channing got hot early (20 points) and Robin was solid throughout (18 and six), and finally Grant Hill finished off the Hornets with five points on two possessions after New Orleans had cut a 20-point lead with two minutes left in the third to two with 1:40 left.

Besides J-Rich (three points on 1-for-6 shooting in 24 minutes), that blown lead was the biggest negative coming out of tonight. The Suns just can’t handle leads, even playing against an undermanned New Orleans squad missing Chris Paul.

No matter what the situation is, you know the opponent will come back. The only saving grace for the Suns is that they’ve been able to maintain their last two leads nonetheless.

A big reason that was the case in this one against a Hornets squad that entered the day 16-5 in the Big Easy is rebounding. Phoenix won the battle of the boards 44-38 after losing it 56-38 in a seven-point loss in New Orleans on Nov. 19 when only Frye grabbed more than six. Oddly enough that came after the Suns won the rebounding battle 45-29 in their first meeting, so clearly rebounding is all about effort when these teams match up.

Before moving on to Denver, it’s interesting to note that the Suns ended December and January in the same way, with a pair of big wins over good teams to make a 7-9 month a bit more palatable.

However, after the big December wins over the Lakers and Celtics, the Suns promptly got crushed by Memphis at home, a defeat that would set the tone for the entire month of January.

Following big end-of-January wins over Dallas and Houston, the Suns started February with this resounding win over the Hornets.

Although that is not necessarily a harbinger of a good month to come, it sure beats what happened last month.