Preview: Boston Celtics (35-10) at Phoenix Suns (20-24)

Phoenix Suns 88, Boston Celtics 71

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PHOENIX — Lately, the Phoenix Suns have not been taking care of business against teams that they should. They might try taking a cue from the Boston Celtics.

The current Eastern Conference leader has gone 20-5 against teams below .500. In most years, the Suns wouldn’t fall into that category.

Friday’s game at US Airways Center may mean more than it appears to on the surface. Suns coach Alvin Gentry, though, wouldn’t get too hyperbolic at Thursday’s practice.

“I don’t know if us losing to Boston or something is going to be the difference in having a great year or not having a great year,” Gentry said. “The next two games are not going to define our season.”

True, the Suns will have 36 games remaining after Sunday’s game against New Orleans, but just nine until the trade deadline, a point at which the Suns may have to evaluate what direction to take.

For now, the Suns remain focused on the Boston Celtics, who lost to Phoenix in both meetings last season (to be fair, there was an All-Star power forward playing for the Suns). In the two games, the Suns outscored the Celtics by an average of 12.5 points. They also dominated from the perimeter, shooting 44.9 percent from three-point range, while holding the Celtics to 25.6 percent from deep.

Currently, the Celtics lead the NBA in field goal percentage, as they’re making 50.2 percent of their shots. The Suns are right behind them in the No. 2 spot at 47.3 percent. Thus, it may come down to defense.

It’s no secret that the Suns are one of the worst defensive teams in the league, but they have recently fared OK on the defensive end. The problem becomes finishing on the other end.

“We collectively haven’t had the discipline to finish plays on both ends of the floor, whether it’s loose balls, rebounds, finishing a rotation or knocking down a shot or finishing at the basket,” Suns point guard Steve Nash said. “Whatever it is, we all need to just tighten up a little bit.”

The Suns will also face the challenge of matching up with Boston’s size. With the offseason additions of former Sun Shaquille O’Neal and the recent return of Kendrick Perkins, the Celtics have only gotten bigger.

Marcin Gortat is likely to get the most minutes at center for the Suns, but Robin Lopez’s size and physicality may be needed at times.

A win over a top opponent could give the Suns something they almost certainly need right now.

“We’ve got to come out and compete, give ourselves a chance,” Nash said. “This is a game where if we find a way to win it could really give us a lot of confidence.”

Nash will face off with current NBA assist leader Rajon Rondo, whose 12.7 assists per game place him above Nash’s second-leading 11.0. Nash had high praise when asked about the young point guard after Thursday’s practice.

“Rondo’s one of the top players in the league,” Nash said. “He does a lot for his team every night. I think he gives them something else that they haven’t had. He’s definitely earned his reputation.”

There is, as always, no shortage of challenges in playing the Celtics, but the big picture is that the Suns desperately need a win.

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