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HORNETS VS. SUNS
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
April 8, 2011

In the second-to-last home game of the regular season for New Orleans, the Hornets take on Western Conference rival Phoenix. Fridays game will provide the Hornets with an opportunity to capture the season series against the Suns, after defeating them in two of the three previous matchups. New Orleans also will try to hold on to the No. 6 spot in the Western Conference playoff race. If the Hornets win each of their four remaining games, theyll finish no lower than sixth.

Phoenix won the initial meeting on Jan. 30 by a 104-102 margin, though New Orleans nearly rallied from an eight-point deficit in the final 30 seconds of the fourth quarter. NOLA evened the head-to-head competition on March 16 with a 100-95 triumph, then prevailed on Phoenixs home floor 106-100 on March 25.

The Suns surprised many around the NBA a year ago by advancing to the 2010 Western Conference finals, where they extended the two-time champion Los Angeles Lakers to six games. However, they have already been mathematically eliminated from postseason contention in 2011. Phoenixs hopes of qualifying for the playoffs officially ended Sunday, when New Orleans defeated Indiana and the Suns were beaten in San Antonio. The one-sided defeat to the Spurs was part of a 1-5 stretch for the Suns, who are playing the fourth game of a five-game road trip. In addition to visits to the Alamo City and the Big Easy, Phoenixs stops on this current trek include Chicago, Minnesota and Dallas.

The Hornets are 27-12 this season in the New Orleans Arena, one of the NBAs better home records. Theyve already clinched finishing the 82-game schedule with a winning overall record, the third time they have accomplished that feat in four seasons since returning full-time to the Crescent City in 2007.



INTRIGUING MATCH-UP


Center, Emeka Okafor vs. Marcin Gortat
During a rough midseason stretch for the Hornets while Okafor was sidelined due to a strained oblique muscle, they won just two of nine games. The first game of that 2-7 stretch was Jan. 30 in Phoenix, when Gortat feasted in the paint on both ends of the floor. In one of the most productive games of his NBA career, the 6-foot-11 native of Poland racked up 25 points and 11 rebounds. With Okafor in the lineup during two March wins over the Suns, the 6-foot-10 UConn product averaged 11.0 points and 11.5 rebounds.



HORNETS.COM SCOUTING REPORT
A closer look at the Phoenix Suns:


Aaron Brooks


Jared Dudley

GUARDS
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 non-playoff team.

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 NBAs 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 doesnt 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 NBAs most stunning postseason outcomes.

FORWARDS
One of the NBAs most respected players for his class and professionalism, small forward Grant Hill will turn 39 later this year but remains Phoenixs 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 career rejuvenation with the Suns.

Hakim Warrick was one of Phoenixs key free-agent signings during the 2010 offseason. Hes started a handful of games, but mostly has come off the bench in Year 1 of his Suns tenure.

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 hes in the lineup, he provides versatility on both ends of the floor.

Scrappy small forward Jared Dudley was one of the key elements to Phoenixs extremely productive bench a season ago, when the Suns made the NBAs 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 NBAs most improved players last season and has flourished since joining Phoenix. Frye enjoyed one March stretch in which he drilled five three-pointers three times within a five-game span.

CENTERS
Robin Lopez is a former high school teammate of Hornets rookie Quincy Pondexter in Fresno, Calif. Lopezs 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 Gortats 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
SUNS HORNETS
Steve Nash
Aaron Brooks
Channing Frye
Vince Carter
Josh Childress
90.4
85.0
80.5
79.7
78.3
Chris Paul
Jarrett Jack
David West
Carl Landry
Willie Green
85.4
85.1
83.9
77.2
75.5
If the PHX/NOH need a three-pointer, their best options are
SUNS HORNETS
Steve Nash
Jared Dudley
Channing Frye
Vince Carter
Aaron Brooks
43.0
41.2
40.4
37.4
36.5
Marco Belinelli
Chris Paul
Jarrett Jack
Quincy Pondexter
Willie Green
39.9
36.0
34.8
34.0
31.7
Career FT percentage (through April 4) Career three-point percentage (through April 4)




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