When: Friday, November 14 at 9 p.m. EST
Where: US Airways Center, Phoenix, AZ
How to watch: SportsSouth, NBA League Pass
Games away from the Hive have been anything but kind to the Charlotte Hornets. The team is 0-4 on the road this season and looks to end that streak tonight. The problem is they are taking on the Phoenix Suns, who own a five-game winning streak against the franchise and are off to a strong start this season.
The Suns seem to be back off to their high-scoring ways — they are fourth in the league with 104.8 points per game and have already secured wins against San Antonio and Golden State. In their last game, they overcame a 19-point deficit to take down the Brooklyn Nets. A team builds a big early lead and blows it late. Sounds like the first two games of Charlotte's road trip. That's a good sign.
Phoenix has six players averaging double-digit points, led by new point guard acquisition Isaiah Thomas' 17.4 (while coming off the bench mind you). Thomas is just one of a three-headed monster the Suns unleash at point guard, along with Goran Dragic (14.9 PPG) and Eric Bledsoe (13.8 PPG), and the team loves to have two of the three guards on the floor at the same time, which should give Hornets' defenders plenty of headaches.
And then there's the Morris twins. Marcus and Markieff Morris are not only on the same roster (that's rare enough), but both actually start for Phoenix (a first in NBA history? Quick, somebody look that up! This is a great trivia question here). Markieff has the better numbers of the two, averaging 15.1 points and 6.4 boards per game while shooting 50% from the field, though Marcus is no slouch either (10.6 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 42.3 percent shooting). Oh, and both players have shown they can hit the 3. With Marvin Williams most likely out for tonight, it's going to be a challenge for whoever gets the minutes at the forward positions (more on that later) to handle the twins.
Oh, and let us not forget Gerald Green, the Suns' third-leading scorer (15 PPG). That's right, two of Phoenix's top-three scorers come off the bench and average a combined 32.4 PPG. To put that perspective, Gary Neal, Cody Zeller, P.J. Hairston and Brian Roberts all combine to average 30.7 points per game. The Hornets seem to struggle against teams that move the ball well and spread out the scoring, which is exactly what Phoenix is. So it is easy to see what the team has struggled against Phoenix.
Probable Starting Lineups
CHA - Kemba Walker / Gerald Henderson / P.J. Hairston / Cody Zeller / Al Jefferson
PHX - Eric Bledsoe / Goran Dragic / Marcus Morris / Markieff Morris / Miles Plumlee
What to Watch For
You get an injury, and you get an injury, and you get an injury, and...
It started off with Marvin Williams, with his knee tendinitis. Then, news broke that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist suffered a stress reaction in his foot and will at least the next two games. Then, a double whammy: Lance Stephenson aggravated his previously injured groin while Gary Neal stepped on a wet spot and injured his left foot at practice, leaving the statuses of both for tonight's game up in the air. These are some big losses just before the first of three games in four days against Western Conference powers for the Hornets. It also leads to a few questions: First, how will Cody Zeller do in a starting role? He's been great as a sixth man. Can that translate when he plays more minutes? Second: Second, who will pick up Zeller's minutes off the bench? Will Noah Vonleh make his season debut (probably not, according to Steve Clifford)? Will Bismack Biyombo get to see more playing time? Will we get to see even more Jason Maxiell? Third: Who will start now for MKG and (assuming he doesn't play tonight) Stephenson? Well, we have the answer to one of those — Clifford has already announced that Hairston will get the first start of his NBA career. As for who would replace Stephenson, my guess would be Gerald Henderson, though I could see Clifford trying to match Phoenix's two point guards on the floor system and starting Brian Roberts. Fourth: Just how many healthy bodies do the Hornets have left at this point?
Hot starts and cold finishes
A theme for the Hornets the past couple of games has been to get off to hot starts and then suffer from a scoring drought in the second half, which leads to a comeback from their opponents and an eventual loss. Charlotte will have another chance to accomplish a hot start this evening — Phoenix ranks 26th in the league, giving up 103.4 points per game. Can the Hornets play a complete game on offense and avoid the scoring droughts that have long plagued this franchise?
Contrasting offensive styles
Their may not be bigger difference in offensive philosophies than Charlotte and Phoenix. The Hornets love to take their time, run out the shot clock and look for a good shot (or just give it to Big Al and let him work his magic). Phoenix, on the other hand, wants to get out and run. The Suns have the second-most fast break points per game in the league (17.5) and rank third in fast break efficiency. Charlotte will need to find a way to slow down Phoenix's offense if it wants a chance to win.
Battle of the guards
Kemba Walker and Lance Stephenson will need to be at their best on both sides of the floor to try to contain the Suns' three-headed monster at point guard. Dragic, Bledsoe and Thomas all are more than competent, have given opponents fits all year and are the key to Phoenix's high octane offense. For the Hornets to turn things around, they need Walker and Stephenson to shake off their early season struggles, find an offensive touch and, most importantly, slow down the Suns' guards.