December 30, 2011

Just four days after the Hornets and Suns opened the 2011-12 regular season in dramatic fashion, the Western Conference members meet for a second time. New Orleans captured a thrilling 85-84 victory on Monday, on the strength of Eric Gordons game-winning, 20-foot jumper with 4 seconds remaining. Although Mondays game in Arizona marked the official Hornets debuts for Gordon, Greivis Vasquez, Chris Kaman, Al-Farouq Aminu and Carldell Johnson, the visitors displayed excellent cohesiveness on the defensive end. Always one of the NBAs high-powered offensive attacks, the Suns were limited to 24 points or fewer in each quarter, en route to a rare low-scoring output on their home floor.

Fridays game marks the first of two trips Phoenix will make to the Crescent City over the next month-plus. On Feb. 1, the Suns return to the Hive for the third overall matchup between these clubs. The conference foes will wrap up their four head-to-head meetings on April 1 in Phoenix.

In Mondays defeat, the Suns received significant offensive production from an unexpected source, with backup center Robin Lopez leading the way by pouring in 21 points. Through the first 179 games of his NBA career, the Stanford product was averaging 6.0 points per game. However, the Hornets were able to keep the rest of the Suns mostly in check, including holding starting forwards Channing Frye and Grant Hill to a combined 4-for-16 shooting performance.

Gordons decisive basket capped a 20-point night for the explosive shooting guard and topped a balanced effort by New Orleans. Five other Hornets cracked double digits in scoring against the Suns, including Carl Landry (14 points), Trevor Ariza (13), Marco Belinelli (10), Vasquez (10) and Kaman (10).

Intriguing matchup: Power forward, Carl Landry vs. Channing Frye
Landry and Frye bring completely different strengths to the floor at the 4 position. Landry does much of his damage in the paint, while Frye is comfortable firing shots from the perimeter. In Mondays season opener, Landry held the upper hand against Frye, tallying 14 points and seven rebounds. The recently re-signed free agent was aggressive in the paint, though he struggled a bit with his shooting touch, going 6-for-15 from the field. The Hornets did a stellar defensive job against Frye, who shot 1-for-6 and finished with just three points and four rebounds.


The Suns are a team in transition, two seasons removed from reaching the Western Conference finals, but one season removed from missing the playoffs altogether. Phoenix finished a disappointing 40-42 in 2010-11, marking the second time in the past three years that the Suns did not qualify for the postseason. During the middle portion of the past decade, Phoenix was one of the NBAs premier clubs, winning 62, 54, 61 and 55 games between 2004-05 and 2007-08 (point guard Steve Nash was the leagues Most Valuable Player in both 2004-05 and 2005-06). The Suns current roster is a mix of decorated veterans seemingly approaching the end of their NBA careers (Nash is 37; Grant Hill is 39), relatively recent free-agent and trade acquisitions (Marcin Gortat, Josh Childress, Shannon Brown, Ronnie Price) and young frontcourt players hoping to emerge into major contributors (center Robin Lopez is 23; rookie first-round pick Markieff Morris is 22).

Whats new
Phoenixs starting lineup and core players remain largely unchanged from last season. However, the Suns made several tweaks to their bench during the offseason. They used their 2011 lottery pick on Morris, a versatile forward who registered seven points and nine rebounds in his official NBA debut against the Hornets. Phoenix also added point-guard depth by signing the athletic Ronnie Price and pass-first Sebastian Telfair. The Suns guaranteed further competition for playing time in the backcourt when they also landed Shannon Brown, who played for the Lakers in 2010-11.

Suns star
In his 16th NBA season, Nash remains the centerpiece of Phoenixs offensive attack. One of the greatest shooters and distributors at point guard in league history, Nash cannot be left unguarded on the perimeter, but is also adept at penetrating and setting up teammates for easy baskets. For years, Phoenix has been known around the NBA for its up-tempo style of play, an approach perfectly suited to Nashs strengths. The Santa Clara product, who has averaged double-figure assists in six of the past seven seasons, handed out a dozen dimes in Mondays loss to the Hornets, to go with his 14 points.

Sun on the rise
Having served as Dwight Howards backup in Orlando, Phoenix center Marcin Gortat did not receive an opportunity to play consistent minutes early in his NBA career. Thats changed since he came to the Suns in a trade last season. The 27-year-old native of Poland has capitalized on his expanded duty, proving to be a quality starter in his own right. The Polish Hammer, whose father was a professional boxer, has also enjoyed some of his best professional games against New Orleans. On Jan. 30, 2011, Gortat scored a career-high 25 points vs. the Hornets, part of a narrow Suns victory.

On the sideline
Longtime NBA assistant and head coach Alvin Gentry took over the Suns midway through the 2008-09 season and guided them to the conference finals the following season. Gentry previously served as head coach for Miami (1994-95), Detroit (1997-2000) and the Los Angeles Clippers (2000-03). After briefly experimenting with a slower, more controlled style of basketball following the departure of Mike DAntoni in 08, Gentry and the Suns re-implemented their familiar fast-breaking emphasis when Gentry was named head coach.

Did you know?
The Phoenix franchise joined the NBA 1968-69 and has been one of the leagues most successful clubs in its 40-plus years of existence. Overall, Phoenixs all-time record is 1,954-1540, a winning percentage of .559. The Suns have made several deep postseason runs over the years, including reaching the NBA Finals in 1976 and 1993, but are still seeking their first league championship. Led by Charles Barkley, the 93 Suns went 62-20 in the regular season, eventually falling in the championship round to Michael Jordans Bulls in six games.

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 Dec. 27)
Has shot at least 88 percent every season since 1999-2000.
Former Laker uses above-average athleticism to get to the rim.
Six-foot-11 forward is exceptional at line for a frontcourt player.
Name Career three-point percentage (through Dec. 27)
Loves to pull up in transition for three-pointers off the dribble.
A post player in college, has worked extensively on shooting touch.
Drained total of 343 trifectas in last two seasons combined.

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