Back home at last, Hornets take on up-and-down Suns

NEW ORLEANS — Seeing himself as a marquee player, and not wanting to be part of a team that’s starting over, Hornets guard Eric Gordon signed with the Phoenix Suns as an unrestricted free agent last summer.

But the Hornets matched the Suns’ four-year, $58 million contract offer and retained Gordon, who was not pleased they did.

Wednesday at New Orleans Arena, Gordon and the Hornets take on the Suns, who, despite having many more veteran players, are also struggling.

The Suns fired coach Alvin Gentry on Jan. 18 after having lost 13 of 15 games. Heading into Tuesday night’s game at Memphis, Phoenix was 3-4 under new coach Lindsey Hunter.

To some, it would be a blessing in disguise the way things worked out for Gordon, with the Hornets being a young, building team as opposed to an older one whose future does not seem as bright.

“They had a young core,” said Gordon, concerning what appealed to him about the Suns. “You can only determine (the Suns’ potential) if I was there. ... I can’t worry about Phoenix. I’m worried about what’s going on here.”

The Hornets are 9-10 since Gordon returned from a patella injury Dec. 29, but they are 8-7 in games in which he has played. He sits out the second of back-to-back games, which he says takes an adjustment that does affect the team.

The Hornets are 1-6 in their past seven games, including their past four on the road after an encouraging win at Memphis to start the trip. In the past five games, the Hornets committed 82 turnovers, which played a big part in their lack of defense. They also struggled rebounding and in some games shot poorly from the free-throw line.

“We did play on the road against some tough teams,” Gordon said of the turnovers, “and you’re looking forward to the next play where you can get a run, and sometimes we’re forcing the issue. I know I was. It was just a tough road trip for us, but I think we’re going to definitely bounce back.”

The past two days, the team was back home, where it could hold long practices and examine things in a more detailed way than is often available on the road with travel and, in this case, two sets of back-to-back games.

The Hornets worked on limiting turnovers (a constant) and free-throw shooting. However, the focus was getting back their intensity, especially on defense.

“We worked on improving, but (also) toughening each other up, showing a little grit,” said center Robin Lopez, who will go against his former team for the second time. Through the struggles, Lopez has been one of the more consistent Hornets, shooting 53.5 percent from the field and averaging 13.5 points.

With five games to go before the All-Star break, Lopez said the practices have the Hornets upbeat again after going against tough competition on their recent western swing. After Wednesday’s game, the Hornets play Atlanta, Toronto and Detroit on the road before returning for a home game against Portland before the break.

“You can’t get caught up in the turmoil, or else it will drag you down,” he said. “I think at best we’ve got to pick up the younger guys and we’ve got to make sure we keep each other focused, hold each other accountable.”

The Suns, who are 29th in defense in the NBA, beat the Hornets 111-108 in overtime Nov. 23 at Phoenix, a game in which New Orleans shot 51.3 percent, including 50 percent on 3-point attempts, but had 18 turnovers.