A night after both clubs earned tough road victories in their openers, the Suns will look to finally earn a win over New Orleans on Thursday night at the US Airways Center, something they couldn’t do against the Hornets last season.
After missing the playoffs for three straight seasons, the Hornets (1-0) returned to relevancy in 2007-08, winning the challenging Southwest Division while Paul finished second to Kobe Bryant in the league’s MVP voting.
The Suns (1-0) lost all four meetings between the teams as Paul averaged 29.0 points and 11.0 assists, and the Hornets scored 117.8 points per game.
“We match up with them pretty well,” Hornets forward David West said after the final matchup, a 120-103 home win on Feb. 27. “C.P. and our guards have an advantage over their guards with their speed and ability to get up and down the floor. … It just happens that Phoenix is one of those teams that we feel confident against.”
The last meeting in Phoenix was a 132-130 double-overtime thriller on Feb. 6, as Paul had 42 points, nine assists, eight steals and just one turnover. He outplayed his rival point guard, as Nash had 32 points and 12 assists but turned the ball over 10 times.
Both teams were eliminated by San Antonio in the postseason, with the Hornets bowing out in seven games in the West semifinals. But Paul picked up where he left off, scoring 21 points and adding 11 assists in the Hornets’ 108-103 win at Golden State on Wednesday.
New Orleans allowed 34 first-quarter points, but tightened its defense and gave up just 19 in the fourth. Paul, meanwhile, missed a pair of open shots down the stretch, but had the go-ahead layup with 19.4 seconds left.
“Great finish, but I hope that all of them don’t start off this way,” coach Byron Scott said. “We got a little bit more aggressive, and our communication got better in the last few minutes.”
West led New Orleans with 24 points and James Posey added 11 off the bench in his Hornets debut. New Orleans added Posey, an key reserve on Boston’s NBA championship team last season, to help the Hornets chase their first title.
The Suns’ opening win was more fulfilling, as they earned a measure of revenge on the Spurs with a 103-98 win at San Antonio. Nash had 13 points and 13 assists and Amare Stoudemire scored 11 of his 22 in the fourth quarter as coach Terry Porter earned a victory in his Phoenix debut.
Phoenix had fallen to the Spurs in five games in the first round of last year’s postseason, the third time in the last four seasons that the Suns were eliminated by San Antonio. But on Wednesday, Shaquille O’Neal had 15 points and 13 rebounds while Leandro Barbosa scored 18 off the bench as Phoenix took advantage of Manu Ginobili’s absence.
“Obviously, the first one is nice, especially on the road,” said Porter. “Our guys really gutted it out tonight. It was great to see that down the stretch.”
Porter, a former assistant for Detroit, is hoping to help improve Phoenix’s defense, which allowed 105.0 points per game last season - sixth-worst in the league. The Pistons led the league in scoring defense in 2007-08, allowing an average of 90.1 points.
Despite winning at least 54 games each of the last three seasons, the Suns haven’t started 2-0 since 2004-05, when they won their first four games en route to a 62-20 season.