Preview: Phoenix Suns (12-12) at Dallas Mavericks (20-5)

Dallas Mavericks 106, Phoenix Suns 91

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At this point next week the Suns will have played four of the NBA’s top six teams in a matter of six days.

No teams have been more consistent than Dallas and San Antonio. Throw in the red-hot Miami Heat and the Kevin Durant-led Thunder and you’ve got yourself a stretch to make any set of knees quiver.

Winning two, or dare I say three, of the four games would be an enormous step in the right direction for a team that has struggled to find itself all season.

But will Phoenix be up to the challenge?

Wednesday night’s 128-122 win over Minnesota provided a good launching point.

“It’s a win; right now that’s the best thing that could happen to us,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. “For me, it’s just a much-needed win and we have got to take that and try to build from that.”

It would have been all the more brutal for the Suns to enter this gauntlet riding a four-game losing streak.

Instead, Phoenix put in one of its more impressive performances of the young season, out-rebounding the league’s top rebounding team 46-39.

A big reason for that outcome was the return of Robin Lopez.

“Robin was great; it looks like he could be even better, emotionally and physically, than he was at the start of the season,” Gentry said. “That’s really encouraging. Robin is the key. He’s the real true big on our team and we need his presence.”

For Phoenix to be successful over its next four games, Lopez’s play will need to remain consistent and continue to open up the team rebounding opportunities that quell second-chance points.

“We’ve got a tough trip, so we’ve got to go out there and try to carry over some of the positive things we did tonight [against Minnesota],” Steve Nash said. “It’ll be a good challenge for us. We’ve got to go out there on the road and try to have some fun with it and enjoy the challenge of taking on three tough road teams in a row.”

As for tonight’s game, Phoenix will stroll into Dallas to meet a team that is 7-1 in December.

The Mavericks would be riding a 14-game winning streak if they had not squandered a 20-point lead to the Milwaukee Bucks.

Of course Dallas is led by Dirk Nowitzki, but just how much he provides for his team is staggering. Nowitzki has scored 25 percent of the Mavericks’ points this season, the highest such percentage in the NBA.

On the other hand, Phoenix’s top scorer, Jason Richardson, averages 17 percent of his team’s points.

Dallas’ defense has been the biggest turnaround for the team. Last season the Mavericks had the 15th ranked defense in the league. Now, they are 6th.

“When you look at teams that have won championships, they’ve always been in the top defensive categories,” Mavericks’ guard Jason Kidd told ESPN. “[But] when you talked about Dallas in the past, it was always, ‘Well it’s a good team that will just outscore you.’ Now that’s changed.”

For the Suns tonight, it will be interesting to see how they match up against this much-improved Dallas team.

And 1

With the new Channing Frye and Robin Lopez lineup working well against Minnesota, the rotations for Phoenix might start to become more settled. … The Suns have lost five straight at Dallas and haven’t won a season series against the Mavs since 2004-05. … Phoenix will need to be sharp from beyond the arc in order to have a chance tonight. Before making 15-of-27 threes against the Timberwolves Wednesday, the Suns had hit just over 30 percent of their long balls in their previous three games (all losses).

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