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Hustlemania: Scrap-Happy Suns Aim to Sucker-Punch Ailing Hornets -- Again

Winning is gravy. Hustle is the meat.

A little elbow grease on the hardwood is all Suns fans could've asked for in the searing heat of late October, before Steve Nash's lefty layup with 5.5 seconds to go chilled the Clippers in L.A. and set the template for a seeming Suns rebirth.

Three weeks and a league-best 10 wins later, there's now a decided nip in the morning air, and Nash and the Suns are the hottest team in b-ball. Local media types are starting to use "Phoenix Suns" and "NBA elite" in the same breath. The way the team is winning has many fans wishing it was hot again -- say, May.

Uncool.

By scrapping, and banging the boards, and playing team D, the 10-2 Suns are defying gravity and logic. If you want to break this magical spell we're all under, there's no quicker way than placing the weight of the world on 'em. Too often, great expectations doom greatness.

Luckily, the Suns don't seem to be burdening themselves with illusions of grandeur, and it showed in their 111-105 W over the Rockets in Houston on Tuesday night. Role player Jarron Collins helped pull yet another victory from the jaws of defeat for Phoenix, as superb bench play and more lockdown D in the final period led to Phoenix's fifth come-from-behind rally in its first 12 games.

"This is a strange little team," Suns head coach Alvin Gentry understated after the game. "They really think they're really good -- not from a cockiness standpoint. They feel they'll just keep plugging away and they'll make a run, and then they say, 'We've got to do it with our defense,' and we have been."

In a nationally televised game tonight in New Orleans, the motley crew of former No. 1 draft choices, retreads, and also-rans will attempt to sucker-punch the Hornets twice in eight days -- which would be quite an accomplishment, given that the Suns were only able to beat Chris Paul and company once out of seven tries the last two years.

To make things worse for the down-spiraling Hornets (4-8), Paul, their franchise-cornerstone point guard, is out indefinitely with an ankle sprain, and the Suns helped dispatch former NBA Coach of the Year Byron Scott with their 124-104 drubbing of New Orleans on November 11. The Hornets whacked Scott after the loss, installing former assistant (and the team's current general manager) Jeff Bower in his place, presumably on an interim basis. Bower has no NBA head-coaching experience.

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On Friday the 13th, in his first game at the helm, it showed. Bower's team stunk up New Orleans Arena like a landlocked shrimp boat in an 86-78 loss to Portland. It was also the game that saw Paul come up lame. The Hornets got clocked the next night, too, in Atlanta, before finally bagging their first W in the Bower era on Tuesday with a 110-102 victory over the Clippers, fueled by 40 points from the patched-together point-guard triad of Darren Collison, Devin Brown, and Bobby Brown.

Thank God for the Clips, huh? They've provided the Hornets with half of their four wins, and their season-opening loss to Phoenix put the Suns back on the road to glory.

Whatever you do, just don't tell these scrap-happy Suns.

Suns/Hornets tip is at 6 p.m. TV: TNT. Radio: KTAR-AM 620. More info: www.nba.com/suns.

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