Injuries are finally starting to catch up with the Phoenix Suns.
They’ll try to end a season-high three-game losing streak when they visit the resurgent New Orleans Hornets in Baton Rouge, La.
Much was made of how Phoenix would respond to the absence of injured All-Star power forward Amare Stoudemire (knee surgery) for the first four months of the season. However, Phoenix, which finished with the league’s best record a season ago, shook off a slow start with an NBA season-high nine-game winning streak.
But things have slowed down considerably since. The Suns have lost three in a row for the first time this season, and have scored fewer than 100 points for four straight games.
They still lead the league with just under 103 points per game, but additional injuries to backup point guard Leandro Barbosa (knee) and forwards James Jones (ankle) and Brian Grant (knee) have left Phoenix shorthanded.
The Hornets took advantage of the Suns’ deficiencies on Monday, rolling to a 91-87 victory at Phoenix behind a season-high 26 points from second-year guard J.R. Smith. New Orleans ended a five-game losing streak with the win, and followed it up by beating the Los Angeles Clippers 102-89 on Wednesday.
Smith had 21 against the Clippers and the Hornets improved to 5-0 this season when he scores at least 16 points.
“It feels good, of course, but (I’m) not unstoppable. My confidence isn’t that high yet,” said Smith, who matched his career high with six 3-pointers against Los Angeles. “I’ve got to just keep knocking open shots down, and hopefully it gets there.”
The Hornets used a balanced offensive attack Wednesday with six players in double figures, including David West’s 20 points and 12 rebounds.
“We just played Phoenix a couple of days ago, we already know what they’re going to do,” said West. “They really don’t run anything except giving the ball to Steve Nash. So we have the opportunity to be familiar with this basketball team.”
Nash, the reigning league MVP, was held to 14 points on 38 percent shooting (5 of 13) against New Orleans on Monday. He managed 20 points on 6-of-18 shooting in Wednesday’s 102-96 loss to Dallas.
“I didn’t shoot well and you have to give them some credit for that,” Nash said. “If we were a healthy team, we would be concerned but it’s tough when you are playing with a short bench. We’ve just got to stay confident.”
The Suns will be making their second of eight road stops in the next 10 games.
This will be the first of the Hornets’ six “home” games scheduled for the campus of Louisiana State University. New Orleans has played its first nine home contest in Oklahoma City, Okla. due to the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina earlier this year.
“It’s special to go back home and go back and see family, see some friends and play in front of so many of our fans who haven’t had a chance to see us play,” Hornets forward P.J. Brown said. “It’s bittersweet. It’s tough just knowing the situation, knowing a lot of the tough times that people are going through down there.”
STANDINGS (through Dec. 15): Suns - 2nd place, 1/2 GB, Pacific Division. Hornets - 4th place, 8 GB, Southwest Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Suns - Marion, 19.4 ppg and 11.7 rpg; Nash, 10.6 apg. Hornets - Paul, 16.3 ppg and 7.1 apg; Brown, 7.8 rpg.
SEASON SERIES: Hornets, 1-0.
LAST MEETING: Dec. 12, 2005; Hornets, 91-87. At Phoenix, Mason scored 22 points to help lead the Hornets end a five-game losing streak against the Suns.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Suns - 4-3 on the road; Hornets - 5-4 at home.