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Preview: 76ers (22-34) at Suns (35-23)

Suns 106, 76ers 95



Coming off what Alvin Gentry called the “best win of the year by far,” the Suns head back home to take on the Philadelphia 76ers tonight in US Airways Center.

After stealing a win in OKC, things couldn’t be better in Phoenix: Steve Nash will return tonight, the Suns have won nine of their last 11 games, Amare Stoudemire is still playing like a man possessed, the Suns are still playing defense and rebounding, JMZ has made its return and the mediocre 76ers are in town.

Last night the Suns captured a win that they are so often used to being on the other side of, courtesy of a Jason Richardson floater from the free throw line with 0.7 seconds remaining. You could tell by the jumping, yelling, fist pumps and chest bumps that soon followed from anyone and everyone donning the purple and orange that this team is coming together and really hitting stride.

But while the Suns should still be feeling good about last night’s game, they can’t forget that they have a game to play tonight. Tonight’s matchup against Philly has all the makings of a trap game. Playing a sub-par team at home one night after a big win spells mental letdown for a team like the Suns, but with the way they have been playing as of late, the losses won’t come nearly as easily. And the Sixers are also playing the second half of a back-to-back after winning in Golden State last night.

Philadelphia has actually won seven of its last 10 games, but the Sixers’ wins haven’t exactly come against top-tier competition, and if the Suns continue to remain focused, rebound and play defense, they should make easy work of Philly.

Just think if Amare actually had been dealt to Philadelphia for Andre Iguodala and possibly Samuel Dalembert, he would be returning to Phoenix for the first time and the Suns would undoubtedly not be surging as they are right now.

But Amare is in Phoenix, and he’s been an absolute beast in February, averaging 24.6 points and 11.3 rebounds during the nine-game stretch. Is it a coincidence that the Suns are playing their best basketball when Amare is manning the glass and playing defense? Hardly.

However, STAT isn’t the only reason the Suns are playing like one of the best teams in the league and currently sit in fifth place in the Western Conference. Jason Richardson was the difference in OKC, scoring 20 points and grabbing 13 boards, and at home against the Kings when he went for 26, including 14 in one quarter. After averaging only 13.1 points in January, J-Rich has upped the ante in February, posting 16.4 points and 6.9 rebounds per contest.

Grant Hill has also come alive as of late, averaging 17.7 points per game in his last three. The Suns will add Nash to the equation tonight, but after Goran Dragic’s impressive 40-minute, 16-point, 10-assist performance last night, I don’t think giving Nash some more rest against a team like Philly is all that bad of an idea.

The Suns have been winning games because of defense and rebounding this month, but the offense is slowly coming around as well, and with 24 games left in the season, there is no better time than now to climb the ladder toward the NBA’s elite.

As mentioned earlier, tonight’s contest has the makings of a trap game, but if the Suns can stay mentally focused, they should be able to win their 10th game in their last 12 outings and gain some separation in the Western Conference playoff logjam.

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