Hornets-Suns Preview

The New Orleans Hornets have been fading out of the playoff

picture for the past three weeks. This next week will probably go a

long way in determining their postseason fate.

In the midst of their longest road losing streak in more than

three years, the slumping Hornets look to avoid losing for the

ninth time in 11 games when they open a five-game road trip against

the Phoenix Suns on Sunday night.

New Orleans’ playoff hopes seemed to take a major hit when the

team announced at the end of January that Chris Paul would be out

at least a month with a left knee injury. The Hornets (32-34)

slipped a little with the absence of their All-Star point guard,

but were still just one game back of eighth-place Portland in the

Western Conference on Feb. 21.

They’ve since fallen well off the playoff pace.

New Orleans has lost eight of 10 to drop seven games behind the

Trail Blazers for the final playoff spot. The Hornets got 30 points

from David West on Friday against Northwest Division-leading Denver

– his second straight 30-point game – but the team ran out of steam

down the stretch and lost 102-95.

“I thought we were very strong throughout most of the game but

of course there are problem areas that we need to work on as with

every game,” coach Jeff Bower said. “We are definitely going to

learn and grow from this game and make sure we apply what we have

learned into the next game coming up.”

It won’t be easy with a difficult portion of the schedule

looming for New Orleans, which will be without primary reserve

James Posey (flu) for a second straight game. Posey did not travel

with the team to Phoenix, and his status for Monday is

uncertain.

After playing Phoenix (40-26), the Hornets visit the Los Angeles

Clippers on Monday, Golden State on Wednesday, Denver the following

day and Utah on Saturday.

New Orleans has had no luck on the road lately, being outscored

by an average of 11.7 points in losing their last six away from New

Orleans, their longest road skid since dropping seven in a row Dec.

8-30, 2006.

The Hornets are allowing an average of 108.5 points on 51.1

percent shooting during this road skid, and they’re about to face a

Phoenix team that averages a league-best 109.3 points.

The Suns are coming off a rare home loss, falling to the Lakers

102-96 on Friday. Amare Stoudemire had 29 points and 16 rebounds

for Phoenix, which rallied from 15 down in the second half and led

briefly early in the fourth before the defending champs pulled

ahead for good.

“We played hard and did a good job, but we just couldn’t quite

get over the hump,” coach Alvin Gentry said.

The Suns should have better luck against a Hornets team that has

struggled on defense and is 10-25 when allowing at least 100

points

Phoenix has reached triple digits in 57 of 66 games this season,

including all three against New Orleans. The Suns have won two of

those games, and defeated the Hornets 124-104 in the only meeting

in Phoenix on Nov. 11, as eight Suns reached double figures.