The Phoenix Suns said after the All-Star break that they weren’t worrying about anybody but themselves.
They said it didn’t matter who they were playing, where they were playing or how they got wins. All that matters, they said, was playing their way into the playoffs in the final 28 games.
Through the first six of those 28, that’s just what the Suns have done, losing only to the Boston Celtics. Only one of those wins, however, came against a winning team, the Atlanta Hawks. The schedule now gets much more difficult, starting Sunday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Thunder enter the night on a two-game winning streak which followed a buzzsaw stretch that saw three straight losses to the Spurs, Magic and Lakers. Since the team’s deadline acquisition of center Kendrick Perkins, some have said the Thunder have molded the most well-rounded team in the league.
The core though, as always, remains Kevin Durant. Even with a sprained ankle, Durant led the Thunder to a win over the Hawks on Friday while scoring 29 points.
Suns coach Alvin Gentry has said numerous times that Durant is a player you can’t stop but only hope to contain. Against the Suns, Durant averages 31.2 points. It’s almost more productive for the Suns to give Durant some space and put the defensive focus on everyone else.
The Suns displayed against the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday that they are a bit bipolar on defense recently. The Bucks scored at will in the first half as the Suns allowed them to set the pace. It looked like the NBA’s lowest scoring team might sneak out a win, but the Suns seemed to flip a switch in the second half and looked dominant on defense as they went on a 31-6 run.
Solid defense against the Bucks isn’t much to brag about, but the Suns continue to limit opponents’ shooting. The Bucks shot 41.7 percent, while the Celtics hit 42.9 percent of their shots.
Ending their six-game road trip with a win and a 5-1 record would be nice for a few reasons, but mainly because it would give the team a little breathing room as the schedule gets tough. After the Thunder, the Suns see the Houston Rockets, another team battling for a playoff spot and winners of six of their last seven.
After that, the Suns host Denver and Orlando. They won’t see another sub-.500 opponent until March 18.
Vince Carter and Steve Nash are expected to start for the Suns on Sunday. Carter missed Friday’s game with a concussion and Nash has been hobbled by pubic symphysis irritation lately. For the Thunder, Perkins and point guard Nate Robinson are not expected to play.