By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
February 6, 2013

Two teams who executed a key July 2012 trade, the New Orleans Hornets and Phoenix Suns, meet for the second time this season Wednesday in the Crescent City. Phoenix holds a 1-0 series edge, having defeated New Orleans 111-108 in an overtime thriller back on Nov. 23. The pair of Western Conference clubs are scheduled to wrap up their head-to-head season series on April 7 in Phoenix.

On July 27, 2012, the Hornets acquired Robin Lopez from the Suns, part of a three-team deal that also included the Timberwolves. In exchange for Lopez, New Orleans traded the contracts of Jerome Dyson and Brad Miller.

“We wanted to fill the center position and we feel like Robin fits in with our timeline – a young player that has experience in the league and will have an opportunity to come in and contribute and help us,” Hornets general manager Dell Demps said at the time of the trade. “He brings a defensive presence. We hung our hat on our defense since we’ve been here. His size and his athleticism we think will really anchor our defense.”

Midway through the 2012-13 regular season, Lopez has also been a greatly-improved offensive player. Over his four previous seasons with Phoenix, the 7-footer’s career average in scoring was 5.4 points, but he has more than doubled that as a Hornet. While starting in the pivot in each of New Orleans’ first 48 games, Lopez has averaged 11.3 points, fifth best on the club. His average of 1.7 blocks is also a career high, second on the Hornets behind only Anthony Davis’ rate of 1.8 swats.

The Hornets are coming off an 8-8 January, their best month so far of the season, but dropped the final four games on their Super Bowl road trip.

Intriguing matchup: Power forward, Anthony Davis vs. Luis Scola
In a deep contrast of styles and backgrounds, the 19-year-old Davis will square off against 32-year-old Scola, now in his sixth NBA season. While Davis will focus on improving and fine-tuning his offensive game this summer, Scola is one of the craftiest low-post scorers in the NBA. Davis will try to use his impressive length and athleticism to prevent the native of Argentina from thriving around the basket on offense.

Overview
The biggest piece of news during Phoenix’s season occurred on Jan. 18, when the Suns parted ways with head coach Alvin Gentry, who led the club to a surprising appearance in the 2010 Western Conference finals. Gentry was replaced by former NBA point guard Lindsey Hunter, who retired from playing not long ago in 2009-10. Projected by most NBA analysts to miss the playoffs, Phoenix has struggled during several chunks of the 2012-13 campaign, including losing 13 of the last 15 games coached by Gentry. Hunter began his tenure at 3-4, highlighted by nationally-televised victories over the Clippers and Lakers.

Star player
If the current statistics hold, Phoenix will finish the 2012-13 as an NBA rarity, with no player averaging over 15 points per game. The Suns’ current leading scorer at 14.2 points per game is point guard Goran Dragic, who also tops the clubs in assists and steals. Dragic parlayed a breakout 2011-12 season with Houston into a lucrative free-agent deal with Phoenix, a move that was partly necessitated by Steve Nash’s offseason departure from the Suns to the rival Lakers.

On the rise
With longtime Phoenix franchise player and two-time league MVP Nash leaving for the supposed championship potential of the Lakers, several Suns players have dropped off in shooting accuracy, likely a result of no longer benefiting from Nash’s pinpoint passes. However, one key Phoenix player who has seen his production increase is swingman Jared Dudley. The sixth-year Boston College product is posting a stellar three-point percentage and had a 36-point game vs. New York on Dec. 26, the best night of his career.
X-factor
The No. 2 overall pick of the 2008 NBA Draft (chosen after Chicago’s Derrick Rose), forward Michael Beasley is now on his third different NBA team, after playing for Miami and Minnesota. Beasley had an early-January stretch in which he did not play in several games due to coach’s decision, but under new coach Hunter, he appears to be revitalized. The Kansas State product poured in 27 points in a Jan. 30 victory over the Lakers, four days after he tallied 25 points at San Antonio.

On the sideline
A native of Mississippi, Hunter played collegiately at Jackson State, where his No. 11 jersey is retired. At 42 years old, Hunter is one of the NBA’s youngest head coaches. He was born in December 1970, making him roughly 10 months older than Hornets sideline leader Monty Williams.

Did you know?
On the night after Thanksgiving 2012, New Orleans forward Ryan Anderson established career highs in points (34) and three-pointers (8) in a 111-108 overtime loss in Phoenix. Eric Gordon and Anthony Davis both missed the game due to injury.


Players the Suns want shooting free throws in a close game… If the Suns need a three-pointer, three of their best options are…
Name
Career FT percentage (through Feb. 4)
Shannon
Brown
81.8
Uses his elite athleticism to penetrate and draw fouls.
Sebastian
Telfair
77.9
Former New York City high school phenom is in ninth year.
Michael
Beasley
75.9
Versatile left-hander scores frequently in mid-range area.
Name
Career three-point percentage (through Feb. 4)
Jared
Dudley
40.5
Top threat for Phoenix team ranked 29th in percentage.
Goran
Dragic
35.4
Shooting career low from long distance at 31.8.
Michael
Beasley
34.9
Shot 6-for-13 on treys in January after sluggish start.


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