With or without top defender Grant Hill, the Phoenix Suns will have to step it up if they intend on making a playoff push.
The Suns are 2 1/2 games behind Denver for the eighth and final postseason spot in the Western Conference and will host the New Orleans Hornets tonight from US Airways Center. The Suns are expected to be without Hill until the end of the regular season after the veteran underwent surgery Friday to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee.
Hill is averaging 10.7 points per game for Phoenix, which has lost two straight and four of six games, including Wednesday's 103-86 drubbing at the hands of the Los Angeles Clippers. Marcin Gortat posted 23 points, Channing Frye added 16 and Steve Nash handed out 15 assists to go with just one point for the Suns, who made only 37.5 percent of their shots and got 10 points from Jared Dudley, Shannon Brown and Robin Lopez.
"We didn't play well," said Phoenix head coach Alvin Gentry. "Our execution wasn't very good. You have to have some sort of consistent flow and we didn't have that tonight."
Gortat tallied his career-high tying fourth-straight 20-point performance for a Phoenix squad that has not lost three in a row since the All-Star break. The Suns are also 1-4 in games missed by Hill and look to get back to .500. Dudley has scored in double figures in 27 of 32 games since returning to the starting lineup.
New Orleans is probably glad to get the month of March over with and went 5-12 over that time. It will end a five-game road trip tonight in the desert and is coming off Saturday's 88-85 setback to Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Bryant hit the go-ahead three-pointer with 20 seconds left to spark LA, while the injury-riddled Hornets were led by Jarrett Jack's 18 points and 10 assists. Jason Smith added 17 points and 10 rebounds, and his three-point attempt at the buzzer was blocked by Pau Gasol.
"We got some good looks at the end, we put ourselves in a position to win, but sometimes the shots don't go your way," Smith said. "This was a tough one."
The Hornets were without forwards Trevor Ariza (ankle), Carl Landry (ankle) and Gustavo Ayon (personal) last night, while guard Eric Gordon (knee surgery) and center Chris Kaman (illness) were also sidelined. New Orleans is 8-18 away from home and sits last in both the Southwest Division and Western Conference.
New Orleans has lost two of three meetings with Phoenix this season.