Hornets-Suns Preview

The Associated Press

The Phoenix Suns are trying to stay alive in the Western Conference race, but will have to do it without Grant Hill for a few weeks.

Following back-to-back losses, the Suns hope they can start getting back on track Sunday night when they host the New Orleans Hornets.

Phoenix has lost four of six after winning four straight and sits in 10th place in the West - 2 1/2 games behind the final playoff spot.

If the Suns (25-26) are going to get back into the race, they'll have to find a way to do it without Hill, who underwent surgery Friday to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. He's expected to return before the end of the season.

Hill is averaging 10.7 points and is considered Phoenix's best defensive player. The Suns are giving up 97.6 points, but 105.0 in the last two without Hill.

"It's going to be tough," Steve Nash said about fighting for a playoff spot without Hill. "We kind of need everything to go exactly our way these last few weeks, and we're going to have to just be really tough - physically and mentally - and together, and try to find a way to win some of these games that people don't expect us to win."

Phoenix has favorable matchups in its next two games, facing consecutive opponents with losing records in New Orleans and Sacramento. However, after that, the schedule gets more difficult with visits to Utah and Denver - two of the teams it is chasing.

The Suns have been off since a 103-86 road loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday. Nash had 15 assists, but just one point, and Phoenix shot 37.5 percent.

"We have 15 games left and we have to regroup and find a way to win games as soon as possible," Nash said. "We have overachieved thus far, but we are in a position to crawl back into the playoffs and prove everybody wrong."

The Suns have won their last two against the Hornets - both in New Orleans - after losing the first meeting at home. Nash scored a season-high 30 points in a 120-103 victory on Feb. 1.

The Hornets (13-39) have lost four of five, including an 88-85 defeat to the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday after giving up Kobe Bryant's 3-pointer with 20 seconds left.

New Orleans had just eight players available for a second straight game. Jarrett Jack, who missed the previous game, had 18 points and 10 assists while playing with a sprained right ankle, but missed a go-ahead bank shot with 4.9 seconds left.

Trevor Ariza, Carl Landry and Chris Kaman all sat out, while new father Gustavo Ayon and Emeka Okafor weren't with the team.

Despite being shorthanded and lacking depth in the frontcourt, the Hornets hung with the Lakers, even leading 75-65 with 7:58 left, but coach Monty Williams knows playing on back-to-back days presents another challenge.

"You just want to play the game that way," Williams said of the team keeping motivation. "I'm more concerned about the health of those guys that played tonight, a few guys that were limping. ... So, I hope and pray that we have the kind of effort tomorrow."

Sunday ends a five-game road trip for the Hornets, who are 8-18 away from home.

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