Suns-Hornets Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated December 29, 2011
The post-Chris Paul era is off to a rousing start for the New Orleans Hornets, and they haven't even had their starting backcourt together for a game. That could happen Friday night if Eric Gordon returns to join Jarrett Jack, coming off a strong first game replacing Paul as the starting point guard, when the undefeated Hornets face the visiting Phoenix Suns for the second time in five days. "We have a lot of guys on this team that are hungry," Jack said. "A lot of guys want to prove themselves - a lot of capable guys." One of them is Gordon, part of the deal that sent Paul to the Clippers. Gordon led New Orleans (2-0) to victory at Phoenix in his debut, scoring 20 points and hitting the decisive 20-footer with 4.2 seconds left in an 85-84 win Monday. However, he bruised his knee late in the game, and the resulting swelling prompted the team's medical staff to keep him out of Wednesday's home opener against Boston. Jack stepped up with 21 points and nine assists as the Hornets rolled to a 97-78 victory. Acquired last season to back up Paul, Jack missed Monday's win due to a one-game league suspension stemming from a drunk-driving arrest. "We didn't have Eric, so we needed to find those 20 points somewhere," coach Monty Williams said. "Jarrett Jack played very well. He gave us a calming effect. ... He's our leader and we'll need him to play like that all year." Not much was expected of New Orleans following an offseason that saw Paul get traded and David West sign with Indiana. That left the Hornets without their top scorers from last season's team, which started 8-0 and went on to make the playoffs. Celtics coach Doc Rivers explained why the Hornets could remain dangerous. "This team's going to play with a chip on its shoulder the entire year," he said. "If I was a player and all I heard was, 'If you lose Chris Paul it's be the demise of the franchise,' that would make we want to prove a lot of people wrong." It's possible Gordon could return Friday after practicing Wednesday but being forced to sit out that night's game mostly as a precaution. "The (doctors), when they re-evaluated him after shootaround, they felt like this was a situation where you need to let this calm down before it turns into a two- to three-week thing," Williams said. "Right now it's day-to-day." Seeing Gordon again surely wouldn't help the Suns, who already couldn't win at home against a Hornets team missing Jack. Things only got worse for Phoenix (0-2) on Wednesday, when it trailed by 14 at halftime and allowed the first 19 points after the break during a 103-83 home loss to Philadelphia. The Suns have yet to crack 85 points, a number they reached all but three times last season when they finished fourth in the league at 105.0 per game. Their starting five is the same as it was at the end of last season - that hadn't happened since 1990-91 - but that unit of Steve Nash, Jared Dudley, Grant Hill, Channing Frye and Marcin Gortat has combined to shoot 30.9 percent and average 34.5 points. "Collectively we are not in a good rhythm," Hill said. "That is something usually we are pretty good at." The Suns are off to their worst start since opening 0-13 in 1996-97. "Obviously it was not what we anticipated," coach Alvin Gentry said. "... You lose those two games (at home) and it puts you behind the eight ball right away."
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