Preview: Hawks (34-18) at Suns (32-23)

Suns 88, Hawks 80

Hawks

Suns

For the first time in weeks, the Phoenix Suns can finally go out and focus on nothing but playing basketball. With the seemingly never-ending Amare Stoudemire trade rumors now a thing of the past (kind of), the Suns can get back to business against the Eastern Conference powerhouse Atlanta Hawks.

The Suns, aside from Stoudemire, put together a lackluster performance against a tough Dallas Mavericks team two nights ago and have a chance to rebound at home tonight. No Suns fan or player, certainly not Jamal Crawford, can forget the last time the Suns and Hawks met in Atlanta.

Crawford’s 28-foot buzzer-beater over the outstretched arm of Jared Dudley was about ‘as tough as it gets‘. The loss was, at the time, almost rock bottom for a Suns team that blew a 24-point lead and fell to the Pacers two nights before and returned from their four-game road trip winless against Indiana, Atlanta, Charlotte and Memphis. Every member of Planet Orange was left dumbfounded as to why the Suns couldn’t stop blowing leads.

But that lead-blowing syndrome is, for the most part, a thing of the past and the Suns are in a bit of a different place right now, having won six of their last eight games. Aside from the Portland hiccup and Dallas misstep, the Suns have defended, rebounded and knocked down open looks, and when they do those three things they are “as tough as it gets.”

The Hawks should give the Suns fits with weapons like Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Horford and Jamal Crawford to choose from, but Phoenix has a guy named STAT who happens to be playing pretty well in his own right.

Stoudemire is currently amidst “beast mode,” averaging 25 points and 11.8 rebounds per game during the month of February. He went for 28 and 14 last time these two teams squared off, and coming off of a 30 and 14 performance in Big D two nights ago should only help his potential for success. The rest of the Suns need to pick up the slack, however, starting with Jason Richardson.

When J-Rich is a threat on the offensive end, the Suns play extremely good basketball. He offers that other option from the perimeter, other than the Nash and Amare pick-n-roll. He was the catalyst in the comeback against the Mavs the other night, scoring 12 points in the fourth quarter, and the Suns are 15-2 when he scores 20 or more points.

So he needs to establish himself early, and the Suns need to do their best to slow a high-powered Hawks offense and just make sure that Crawford doesn’t get a look at a contested, deep three with time running out.

The Suns play four of their next five games at US Airways Center, and with teams like the Clippers, Kings and Sixers coming to town, they have the perfect opportunity to try and gain some separation from the Trail Blazers, who currently sit a half-game behind the Suns in the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot.

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