When: 8:00 pm EST
Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena; Phoenix, AZ
How to watch: Fox Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass
It’s been a rough four weeks or so for the Charlotte Hornets. Since December 18th they’ve gone 2-9 and are coming off a four-game stretch where they faced really good teams in the Dallas Mavericks, Indiana Pacers, Toronto Raptors, and Utah Jazz who sport a combined 98-55 (.641) record. Let’s hope a visit to the 15-23 (.395) Phoenix Suns helps the Hornets get back on track.
While the Suns aren’t playoff bound this will still be a tough game for the Hornets The two teams met for back on December 2nd in Charlotte and in that contest Phoenix came away with a 109-104 victory. In that game the Hornets trailed by 20 at halftime, rallied in the second half to take a five point lead in the final minute, then let the game slip out of their hands. Devonte Graham and Miles Bridges struggled with their shots going a combined 8-of-29 (.275) including Graham connecting on just 1-of-10 from the three-point line.
The Suns have been playing fairly well of late winning four of their last seven games. Shooting guard Devin Booker has been on a tear and has led his team in scoring in each of Phoenix’s last eight games, averaging 33.4 points over that span. During that stretch he scored 30 points or more in seven straight games, which is a Suns franchise record. Charlotte’s guards are going to need to force Booker into tough shots. He’ll probably get his points either way, so the goal for the Hornets should be making those points come as inefficiently as possible.
Making matters worse for the Hornets is the return of Deandre Ayton. The Suns 6-foot-11 center was serving a 25-game suspension for violating the league’s drug policy when the two teams clashed back in December. Since his return he has played in eight games and put up averages of 15.1 points, 11.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.6 blocks per game. He’s a difference maker. The Hornets often struggle to contain dominant big men, and Ayton can be a load in the post. Bismack Biyombo and Cody Zeller are going to need to step up.
As Charlotte’s playoffs hopes continue to fade the purpose for the rest of this season increasingly becomes to develop the core while remaining competitive enough that a losing culture never starts creeping in to the locker room. But it’s not good enough to just be competitive against teams like the Suns. These are the types of games a young, rebuilding Hornets team needs to learn how to win.