This is not good.

Leandro Barbosa came off the bench to try and spark the Suns to victory.

(NBAE Photos)

It’s not terrible, you understand. Losing to a very good New Orleans team is not even necessarily bad. I mean, you knew going in the team from the Big Easy was going to be anything but easy.

But whereas when the Suns lose it is often because they played poorly for long stretches, this night they played very well for long stretches, and still lost. And this is not good for a team’s machismo.

The tendency is to say this one was lost when New Orleans made all the big plays at both ends of the court in the final three minutes to close out the game with an 11-6 run, but I put it to you that it actually went down the tubes in the third period when the Suns not only failed to build on an 11-point halftime lead but lost all but three points of it.

The team’s well-documented (ad nauseam, in fact) defensive deficiencies were at the root of the third period flame out, but it also didn’t help that the team’s even more well-documented high octane offense sputtered down the stretch.

But enough nitpicking. The fact is this was a fun game to watch if you didn’t care who won (or if you were a Hornets fan), what with two of the game’s best point guards putting on quite a show, and the league’s hardest-to-guard guard doing likewise and then some.

Reading from left to right, that would be Chris Paul of the Hornets (28 points, 10 assists), You-Know-Who of the Suns (23 and 11), and Leandro Barbosa of the Suns (4 of 6 threes and 28 points).

The Suns lost Raja Bell, who was sent home with the flu less than three minutes into the game, and early on it seemed like the Hornets were going to catch pneumonia from his bug because this brought Barbosa off the bench earlier than usual and also forced Coach Mike to use Marcus Banks earlier and longer than usual.

Barbosa scored 14 of his points in that first quarter and Banks went three for three on 3-point shots in the first half and finished with 11 points. But in the end the Suns did miss Bell, of course, just as the Hornets missed David West (bruised hip), arguably their best player.

The Suns are also faulted for not having depth, but on this night their bench outscored the Hornets’ bench 50-7. (Okay, so those numbers were skewed a bit by the Bell illness, but even so …). Incidentally, in case you’re wondering how the Hornets offset this lopsided balance, they did it with every one of their starters scoring at least 19 points.

Good as Steve Nash and Barbosa were for the home side, I am breaking precedent by giving MCGB (Most Coveted Game Ball) award to one of the guys on the other side for the first time ever, namely the aforementioned Chris Paul, who not only put up big numbers but went the full 48 minutes.

The bottom line: Although I continue to insist the Suns are still very much in the title hunt, I will admit they are missing a certain je ne cest quoi, and I don’t know exactly what it is. (In fact, I’m not even sure I can even spell it).