Hornets vs. Suns Scouting Report 03/16/11

By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
March 16, 2011

As the Hornets try to make their return to the NBA postseason after missing the playoffs in 2010, one of the teams pursuing them in the Western Conference race is the Phoenix Suns. Entering Wednesday’s game, the Suns are in 10th place in the conference, four games behind the seventh-place Hornets in the standings. That’s one reason why the meeting between the Hornets and Suns in New Orleans must be viewed as a significant matchup.

Due to a scheduling oddity, three of the Hornets’ final 13 regular season games are against the Suns, after they’d faced Phoenix just once in their first 69 games of 2010-11. On Jan. 30 in Arizona, the Suns eked out a 104-102 victory over the Hornets. New Orleans nearly rallied from an eight-point deficit in the final 20 seconds, after Chris Paul made a three-pointer and three free throws upon being fouled while launching a perimeter shot. After a Phoenix turnover, New Orleans had a Marcus Thornton shot at the rim blocked by Grant Hill that appeared to be goaltending, then saw Paul’s off-balance three-point attempt at the buzzer misfire.

The Hornets’ Jan. 30 defeat gave the Suns a 1-0 lead in the season series, making it even more important that NOLA holds serve on its home floor vs. Phoenix. Head-to-head results are the first tiebreaking step if two teams finish the regular season with the same record. There are two more games scheduled between the clubs over the final three weeks of the season, including March 25 at Phoenix and April 8 back here in the Crescent City.

Phoenix surprised many around the NBA last season by making it all the way to the Western Conference finals, where the Suns were ousted by the eventual league champion Lakers in six games. After losing high-scoring forward Amar’e Stoudemire in free agency during the 2010 offseason, however, the Suns need to finish the regular season in strong fashion to get into this spring’s playoffs.


Bench vs. Bench
Behind offensive threats such as Aaron Brooks, Marcin Gortat, Mickael Pietrus and Jared Dudley, the Suns have one of the more high-powered second units in the league. Since the addition of Carl Landry at the trade deadline, the Hornets have settled into a more consistent bench rotation and have benefited from Landry’s interior scoring presence.

A closer look at the Phoenix Suns:

Steve Nash

Grant Hill

One of a select group of players in NBA history to win back-to-back MVP awards, Steve Nash continues to play at an extremely high level despite having turned 37 in February. The 15-year NBA veteran has compiled another stellar season, though he has not received as much individual acclaim compared to past years due to the Suns’ drop-off from Western Conference finalist to fringe playoff team. Nash’s status for Wednesday’s game is unclear. The Santa Clara product missed the previous two games vs. Orlando and Houston due to a groin injury.

Backup point guard Aaron Brooks receives the starting nod whenever Nash is unavailable to play. Brooks, who was dealt to Phoenix at the trade deadline by Houston, is an offensive-minded player who also has the quickness to get into the paint frequently. The Oregon product was named the NBA’s Most Improved Player in 2009-10 with the Rockets, but was slowed by a severe ankle sprain early this season.

Third-string point guard Zabian Dowdell passed up much more lucrative offers overseas in the offseason in order to play in the D-League, where he believed he had a much better chance of being seen by NBA scouts. After signing a pair of 10-day contracts with the Suns, he was signed for the remainder of 2010-11.

A former NBA dunk contest champion, Vince Carter became a household basketball name early in his career for his athleticism and highlight-reel plays. Now a 13-year veteran, Carter doesn’t attack the rim as frequently but remains a dangerous three-point shooter.

A native of France, Mickael Pietrus was a key sparkplug off the bench for the Orlando Magic team that captured the Eastern Conference title in 2009. Pietrus also played for the 2006-07 Golden State club that upset Dallas in the first round of the playoffs, one of NBA’s most stunning postseason outcomes.

One of the NBA’s most respected players for his class and professionalism, small forward Grant Hill will turn 39 later this year but remains Phoenix’s best individual defender. The former Duke University standout dealt with a staggering array of injuries earlier in his pro career while he was a member of the Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic, but has experienced a rejuvenation with the Suns.

Hakim Warrick was one of Phoenix’s key free-agent signings during the 2010 offseason. He’s started a handful of games, but mostly has come off the bench in Year 1 of his Suns tenure. The best memory of Warrick’s hoops career took place in New Orleans in 2003, when he and the Syracuse University men’s team defeated Kansas in the NCAA title game at the Superdome. Carmelo Anthony was the Orange’s top player that season.

Like Warrick, Josh Childress was signed in free agency by Phoenix last summer. After spending two years playing overseas in Greece, Childress has struggled to consistently crack the Suns’ rotation. When he’s in the lineup, he provides versatility on both ends of the floor.

Scrappy small forward Jared Dudley was one of the key elements to Phoenix’s extremely productive bench a season ago, when the Suns made the NBA’s version of the Final Four. A Boston College product, Dudley is an aggressive defender and accurate three-point shooter.

Effective perimeter shooter Channing Frye was one of the NBA’s most improved players last season and has flourished since joining Phoenix. However, Frye dislocated his right shoulder in a game recently and is not expected to return to action until later this month.

Robin Lopez is a former high school teammate of Hornets rookie Quincy Pondexter in Fresno, Calif. Lopez’s twin brother, Brook, is a high-scoring center for the New Jersey Nets. Robin tends to focus more on defense and rebounding than his sibling.

Formerly the backup to Dwight Howard in Orlando, Marcin Gortat has proven to be a very effective player since being given additional playing time by Phoenix. One of Gortat’s recent breakout games came against New Orleans on Jan. 30, when he totaled 25 points and 11 rebounds.

Players the PHX/NOH want shooting free throws in a close game…
Steve Nash
Aaron Brooks
Channing Frye
Vince Carter
Josh Childress
Chris Paul
Jarrett Jack
David West
Marco Belinelli
Carl Landry
If the PHX/NOH need a three-pointer, their best options are…
Steve Nash
Jared Dudley
Channing Frye
Vince Carter
Aaron Brooks
Marco Belinelli
Chris Paul
Jarrett Jack
Quincy Pondexter
Willie Green
Career FT percentage (through March 13) Career three-point percentage (through March 13)

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