Suns-Hornets Game Preview
The Phoenix Suns are on the outside looking in at the Western Conference playoff picture and are running out of time to gain the necessary ground.
The New Orleans Hornets hope David West will be around down the stretch as they attempt to hang onto their postseason spot.
Phoenix hosts New Orleans on Friday night in a matchup of teams coming off less-than-ideal victories.
The Hornets (41-31) needed a 20-foot bank shot from Emeka Okafor at the end of regulation Thursday to force overtime before eventually winning 121-117. Seventh-place New Orleans extended their lead to one full game over eighth-place Memphis and pulled within one-half game of sixth-place Portland with 10 remaining.
First-year coach Monty Williams has worked his team hard in practice of late as the playoffs near.
"We tried to create a bunker mentality, playoff mentality," Williams said. "Some things were said in practices that I didn't want anybody else to hear. That's just the way it's got to be for us."
The Hornets hope to hear good news regarding West, who scored 29 points before leaving the game near the end of regulation after his dunk tied it at 103. West hurt his left knee, but X-rays came back negative and he is scheduled to undergo an MRI prior to the game.
"The way he was lying down, I could tell he was seriously hurt," Okafor said of West.
Chris Paul scored 24 points, bouncing back from a 0-for-9 shooting, four-point performance Saturday in a loss to Boston. Paul is averaging 26.5 points and 10.8 assists in his last four games against the Suns.
Paul scored 26 points in each of the first two meetings this season, which each team winning on its home court.
Phoenix (36-34) has won two straight and four of six at home after a 114-106 win Wednesday against Toronto, allowing it to maintain some playoff hopes.
The Suns are 10th in the West, three games back of Memphis with 12 games remaining.
Phoenix needed 63 points from its bench to beat the Raptors after Grant Hill (flu symptoms) and Mickael Pietrus (sprained right knee) left before the end of the first quarter.
Backup point guard Aaron Brooks scored a team-high 25 and added eight assists for the Suns, who were playing on consecutive nights after a 139-137 triple-overtime loss Tuesday against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Jared Dudley, who scored 25 points March 16 in a 100-95 loss to the Hornets, added 13.
"I just wanted to be aggressive, as coach (Alvin Gentry) asked me to, and if the shot was there, take it," Brooks said. "We played hard. It was kind of hard. We got in late and we got it done."
Steve Nash scored 10 points and had 15 assists Jan. 30 in a 104-102 victory against New Orleans, but the Suns nearly blew an eight-point lead in the final 18 seconds. Hill appeared to dodge a goaltending call in the final seconds, and Paul missed a last-second 3-pointer as Phoenix held on.
Marcin Gortat, who is averaging just 9.3 points, scored a career-high 25 in the victory.
The Suns have won three straight meetings against the Hornets in Phoenix and five of seven overall in the series.
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