Phoenix 91 (11-8) | New Orleans 104 (10-6)
The Hornets are now 6-0 against the Suns in the last 2 seasons.
Last night New Orleans downed a very shorthanded Suns squad (they only dressed 8 guys) in a back-and-forth shootout that was often too close for comfort. So close, even, that I'm not sure what the outcome would have been if Phoenix had been able to play either Nash or the Shaqtus.
In a game where both teams hoisted up 19 treys a piece, the difference came down to the hustle stats. The Hornets outdid the Suns in rebounds (29-20), steals (9-6), and blocks (6-3), while tying in assists (20) and turnovers (13). Both teams were pretty average from the floor, but the Bees took an astounding 35 free throws to Phoenix's 19. I'm not calling home court advantage on this since the Suns were playing really aggressively, but that's a huge disparity nonetheless.
Chris Paul was his usual awesome self, throwing out 24 PTS, 15 AST, 4 STL, 4 REB. Peja also dropped 24 PTS (with 15 of those coming from three point land), while David put up 23 PTS and 14 rebounds. Now that's more like it.
But to oolge over CP, Peja, and West's performances is to ignore the bigger story problem: our bench was completely inept last night. Byron put them in at the start of the second and they failed to score a single point in the first four minutes. Meanwhile the Suns went on an 10-0 virtually erasing our 14 point lead. It D.West on a tech foul shot to put the first point on the board that quarter. The Suns made us look silly for the rest of the second, outscoring us 29-16 (and taking the lead at times), but the Hornets roared back in the third. At the end of 3, the score was 82-69.
The bottom line in this game? Our starters looked fantastic: at times they seemed impossible to stop. But our bench looked absolutely terrible. Chris Paul cannot continue to play 44 minutes a night. He just can't. Our bench has to start stepping up and protecting our leads. There's no way we make a deep playoff run without them.
Speaking of playoffs, Ric Bucher's piece in today's Daily Dime predicts that we'll be the four seed come April, since there's no way we'll stay as "mediocre" as we've been playing. He then drops this line: "But it's worth noting that they started 10-6 despite the cushiest of schedules with loads of days off." While I'll admit that our schedule ended up being easier than I'd expected (only 9 of our opponents have had winning records), I'm surprised t see that Bucher thinks that our ridiculously spaced out schedule has been a good thing. I vote "nay" on such a claim. In fact, I think the schedulers down at NBA headquarters did us quite a disservice by putting 5 three-day breaks in the first month and a half of our schedule. It gives us (or any team) too much time to dwell. And that's not a good thing. The more often you play, the better you'll play since the rhythm of the schedule should prevent you from beating yourself up too much over any one loss or getting to cocky over any one win.
Hopefully that logic stands true because our schedule is about to become more frenetic. Guess how many three-day breaks we get after next Wednesday's hosting of Charlotte. The answer is 1 (the All-Star game break). Time to buckle down, boys.
Couple of observations before I leave you:
- We seem to bite really hard when teams attempt to draw double teams from us on offense. And it's not just on players like Amare. While I'm not surprised that this occurs early in the game, you'd think we'd lock in on the problem after the opposing team sinks 5 or 6 wide open treys.
- I have identified one of Hilton's (many) problems. When he gets into the lane on defense, he doesn't plant and put his hands up or follow the ball with his feet. Instead, he's doing his best Chris Paul and jabbing for the steal. You're our backup CENTER! Stop trying for the steal and play real defense. You WILL continue to be dunked on if you don't figure this out.
- Lots of 3 second violations. I think I counted 4 or 5 with at least 3 of them going to the Hornets. Couldn't tell if both teams forgot how to count or the refs were just whistle happy.
- My buddy and I have been trying to come up with a good nickname for Tyson. Our first attempt was "Chairman of the Boards," which was good but always felt too lengthy. Our newest attempt: Pale Ale. Cause he's got mad hops. Yuk Yuk Yuk.
- JuJu was absent from the lineup yet again. His 11 min/game (when he does play) is baffling to me considering the state of our bench. Why is he in Byron's doghouse? Anyone?
- We got see what next year's (or the year after perhaps) Suns are going to look like. You've got to figure that Shaq and Nash will be the first to go. Of course, I guess Hill and Bell will be on their heels. That leaves a "core" of Barbosa, Diaw, Stoudemire with Lopez, Barnes, and Tucker to boot. If I'm Steve Kerr, I would start moving contracts after this season. Stoudemire's good, but he won't lead them to the playoff with the crew that'll be left when Nash and company retire.
- Got a new addition for the CP3 highlight section: with 4:50 left in the first, Chris bounce passes from the top of the three point arc through 3 (three!) Phoenix defenders in the lane to D. West for an open dunk. Sweet.
Composed to: Andrew Hill's Black Fire
Photo courtesy of espn.com