PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns have won seven of nine and 12 of 17 to make themselves players in a Western Conference playoff race that’s getting tighter by the day.
Now they can put the cherry on top of this stellar pre-All-Star break stretch by beating the second-best team in the Western Conference, the Dallas Mavericks.
The Suns are lucky they are playing an opponent they could never overlook because the nature of this point of this season could lead to a letdown.
“These are tough games,” Steve Nash said. “It’s like a kid on Christmas Eve. I know that sounds very unprofessional, but you play so many games when a break is looming like that you can’t help but be a little bit excited. I think sometimes you have to really guard getting that Christmas Eve fever and coming out a little flat or jittery so we’ve got to just stay focused, stay calm and play a good game.”
Christmas Eve fever or not, you would think the Suns would be able to stay focused playing in a nationally televised team against a team they can really make a statement by beating as the Mavs have won 12 of 13 to enter this contest as the hottest team in basketball.
Dallas has been practically unbeatable this season in games played by Dirk Nowitzki, and now they get back explosive guard Roddy Beaubois, who promptly went for 13 points, six assists and three steals in his season debut last night against the Kings.
The Mavs beat Sacramento 116-110 and thus, like seemingly every team that has visited US Airways Center of late, they will be playing on the second half of a back-to-back. Not that that seemed to bother the Kings when they visited Sunday night.
As is always the case when the Suns face an elite scorer, Grant Hill will get the call on the 7-foot Nowitzki a game after spending crunch time checking Jazz All-Star point guard Deron Williams and doing well enough for Alvin Gentry to make another impassioned plea for Hill’s All-Defensive Team candidacy after the contest.
Hill and company “limited” Dirk to 18 points in their last meeting in which Steve Nash got injured in the first quarter and Jason Terry and Shawn Marion picked up the slack in a 15-point Dallas win on the eve of the Gortat trade.
With Hill being undersized the Suns don’t have any ideal options to defend Dirk, who averages 22 points per game, but at least Gentry can count on the former Duke star to make Nowitzki work hard even if he can shoot over Hill.
“He’s a challenge,” Hill said. “You can do everything right and he can still hit the shot on you.”
Not only would a Suns win cap their season-saving run to the All-Star break and put them above .500 at the unofficial halfway point of the season, Phoenix would stay right in the thick of the playoff race.
Portland’s six-game winning streak has vaulted the team the Suns have been chasing for so long all the way up to the No. 5 spot in the West as everyone else has tumbled. A victory would cut the Suns’ deficit for the final playoff spot to 1 1/2 games behind Utah, who is currently tied with the Suns in the loss column.
Meanwhile, they would remain tied in the loss column with No. 9 Memphis, who could be in for a fall with star forward Rudy Gay out at least four weeks with a shoulder injury, and stay just a game out in the loss column behind Denver and New Orleans.
Most importantly the Suns would go into the break feeling great about their recent stretch if they can upset a team as good as Dallas and inch even closer to the postseason picture.