Preview: Suns (15-6) at Mavericks (14-7)

Mavericks 102, Suns 101





Tonight’s game at Dallas marks the beginning of an extremely telling five-game stretch for the Phoenix Suns.

The question with the Suns has never truly been, “Is this team a No. 1 seed in the Western Conference?” Rather it has been, “Is this team better than a middle-of-the-pack Western Conference squad or is it simply a six or seven seed?”

Based on Phoenix’s last four games (1-3), the answer is starting to look more and more like a six or seven seed, but there is no way to know until the Suns play some of the Western Conference’s potential three, four and five seeds.

Low and behold, the Suns will finally have that chance to show what tier of the Western Conference they belong in when they take on the Dallas Mavericks tonight.

After Dallas, the Suns will battle Orlando, Denver, San Antonio and Portland — all projected Western Conference playoff teams aside from reigning Eastern Conference champion Orlando. The Suns are 3-4 against teams above .500, but those four have come against the Lakers (2), Cavs and Magic.

Tonight against the Mavs is the perfect time to right the ship and show the Western Conference where they stand.

The Mavs have dropped two straight and are in a funk as well to say the least. They shot 35.2 percent in Friday night’s loss to Memphis and 37.3 percent in a home loss to Atlanta. They don’t exactly have an identity, but they do have enough weapons to give the Suns’ defense some tough matchups. The question when facing the Mavs has always been: who is going to guard Dirk?

A few years back that man would be Shawn Marion, but now he’s sporting the same white and blue that Dirk is. Now the Suns will probably have to throw a heavy combination of Amare, Frye, Lou, Lopez and maybe even Earl Clark at the seven-footer.

The Mavs should also get an added scoring boost with the return of forward Josh Howard. The Wake Forest product has played only three games this season due to an injured ankle, but according to, Howard will give it a go tonight against the Suns.

Howard does most of his work early in games, so the Suns should look to limit him early and at least make an effort to stop Dirk. Defense needs to be a priority against the Mavs tonight, but if the Suns don’t get back on track on the offensive end, this one could be over early.

The offensive improvements must start with Jason Richardson. The Suns are 9-0 when he scores above his average (16.4 ppg). Coincidentally enough, Richardson has averaged only 11.5 points per game over the last four contests, and he scored 16 in the only win.

The Suns open a crucial five-game run starting tonight, and at the end of this stretch Suns fans should know where their team stands in the Western Conference.

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