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Vasquez sparks Hornets past Suns

The SportsXchange

NEW ORLEANS -- New Orleans Hornets coach Monty Williams loves to call third-year Venezuelan point guard Greivis Vasquez the ultimate gym rat, in part because Vasquez has the pale skin to prove he spends hours upon hours honing his game indoors.

After an uninspiring Hornets loss to Minnesota on Saturday night, Vasquez relished the chance to get back into the gym and practice like a demon for the next two days.

The hard work paid off Wednesday night as Vasquez scored 15 of his game-high 19 points in the first half and added 12 assists without committing a turnover to spark the Hornets to a 93-84 victory over the Phoenix Suns at the New Orleans Arena.

Vasquez went 8 of 9 from the floor, but he was most proud of his efficient play handling the ball. Never before had Vasquez recorded that many assists without turning the ball over.

"That's impressive," Vasquez said. "That shows me I can do it night in and night out. Like I say, I'm not perfect. I might turn the ball over a couple of times, but I'm trying to make plays because I'm a playmaker. Tonight was a great game."

Vasquez said Williams used the two hard practices to "jump everybody, and I like that."

"He's calling people in and making us step up grow as a man," Vasquez said. "I had a really tough road trip. I wanted to get in the gym a little more and do what I do when I'm home. We're a team that needs practice. When we practice, we come out here and play and do our job the right way."

Williams said the key to the victory -- which snapped the Hornets' four-game losing streak -- was a defensive effort that held the Suns to 31 second-half points and Vasquez's ability to distribute the ball flawlessly. The Hornets shot 52 percent from the floor (39 of 75) and outscored Phoenix in the paint 56-42.

"I thought Greivis had big-time command of the game tonight," Williams said. "He was pretty special as far as finding guys and attacking the basket."

The Hornets (16-33) got 16 points and 11 rebounds from Al-Farouq Aminu and Ryan Anderson added 14 points off the bench. That was more than enough to compensate for a rough shooting night by Eric Gordon, who was 3 of 14 from the field and has shot under 35 percent at home. Gordon, who missed almost the first half of the season with a right knee injury, finished with nine points.

"I came back not 100 percent, and I was nowhere near in shape," Gordon said. "I'm still not 100 percent today. I'm just battling through it. I know I'm still capable of scoring. This year I'm not able to move as fast or as much as I want to, but it's getting better and I'm getting better physically. It's going to come."

After 19 first-half lead changes, the Hornets turned a 61-60 deficit into a 73-63 lead with a 13-2 run in a 3:23 span of the third quarter. Center Robin Lopez, a former Sun, tipped in a pair of point-blank misses by Gordon, and Aminu added four points with a floater in the lane and a thunderous dunk off a feed by Vasquez.

New Orleans took a 78-71 lead into the fourth quarter but went scoreless for 4:02, missing its first five shots and committing three turnovers, allowing the Suns to close within 78-74. Jason Smith ended the drought by picking up a loose ball in the lane and hitting a short jumper, but the Suns scored four straight to close within 80-78.

But after the Hornets scored just two points in the first 6:40 of the fourth quarter, Anderson worked free for a 3-pointer from the right baseline and Lopez took a feed from Anderson for a driving layup, putting New Orleans up 85-78 with 4:42 left.

"There's not many positives that we can take from the game tonight," said interim Phoenix coach Lindsey Hunter. "We turned the ball over (16). They shot over 50 percent, so you put a big strain on your offense when a team shoots that high of a percentage."

The Suns (17-33) placed five players in double figures -- led by Marcin Gortat and Jared Dudley with 14 each -- but they went 1 of 15 from 3-point range and scored only 13 points in the fourth quarter.

NOTES: Gordon played his first game against the Suns after having signed a four-year, $58 million offer sheet with the team during the summer, which the Hornets matched four days later. During the free-agent negotiations, Gordon angered Hornets fans when he said his "heart" was in Phoenix. But since returning to the starting lineup after suffering a right knee injury in late December, Gordon leads the Hornets with 16.9 points per game. ... After going 1-4 on a five-game road trip scheduled around the Super Bowl, the Hornets are now faced with three more road games starting Friday night in Atlanta because of Mardi Gras. "Everybody's going to have a point in their schedule where they don't like it," Williams said. "We don't have the record that we want, but we have been able to teach and show our guys how tough it is to play in the league. We may not see the growth until this summer when guys are able to process what they've been through." ... Hunter has gone 4-5 after taking over on Jan. 20 for Alvin Gentry. He said he's trying to change the Suns' "culture" from offense to defense. "Cultural change means the first thing you think about when you hear a team's name," Gentry said. "It used to be when you heard the Phoenix Suns, what did you think? Offense. We want to be known as a tough, defensive-minded team and a disciplined team."
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