November 20, 2009 | 7:35am
You're kidding, right? The Phoenix Suns' game Thursday night against the Hornets in New Orleans was supposed to be a gimme. Before the game, fans and local sports talk radio hosts had already chalked up win number 11 for the Suns. "The Suns' second team alone could beat the Hornets," they said. "The Suns are almost guaranteed to come home from this road trip 11-2," they said. "This was a nice gift from the schedule-maker," they said.
Wrong, wrong, and wrong. The Suns are coming home 10-3 after a lackluster showing in New Orleans, where they were knocked off 110-103. And this coming with the Hornets' best player, Chris Paul, on the shelf with an ankle sprain.
The Suns even out-shot the Hornets, with the Suns making just under 46 percent of their shots and the Hornets making a paltry 40 percent of theirs. A closer look at the shooting statistics, though, shows New Orleans making two more three-pointers and three more foul shots than Phoenix. There's your ballgame.
It almost looked as though the Suns were going to put this one away early in the third quarter, too. They opened the second half with a 16-5 surge to give them an eight-point lead, 65-57. But the hero for the Hornets, veteran Peja Stojakovic, carried his team in the second half, hitting several huge three-pointers. In all, Stojakovic hit seven three-pointers, pulled down 13 rebounds, and scored 25 points to lead all scorers.
With just under a minute to play, the Suns were down six points and had possession, but an inbound pass flew directly into the hands of a Hornet, sealing the Suns' fate. It was a play typical of the entire game for a somewhat sloppy Phoenix, which seemed to lack the locked-in focus and intensity it has shown throughout most if its first 13 games. Perhaps the road-weary Suns overlooked the 5-8 Hornets, a team battling without its best player and a team that had been walloped 124-104 by the Suns just eight days earlier.
Amar'e Stoudemire led the Suns in scoring with 23 points, but the big man hauled in only five rebounds and generally was pushed around by the Hornets' center, Emeka Okafur, who tallied 12 boards. In fact, the Hornets out-rebounded the Suns 56-38 and out-scored the Suns in the paint by six points. Simply put, the Hornets were better than the Suns in every facet of the game Thursday night.
Steve Nash had 10 assists but scored only 13 points, one of the lower outputs of the year for the star. Meanwhile, Jason Richardson scored 16 points and, off the bench, the sharp-shooting Jared Dudley scored 17 points, one of the Suns' few bright spots of the evening.
Next up: Detroit, who are not your daddy's Pistons. They're led by new coach John Kuester, and their biggest name is 35-year-old center Ben Wallace. Tip-off is at 6 p.m. Sunday at US Airways Center. TV: Fox Sports Net. Radio: KTAR-AM 620. More info: www.nba.com/suns.