Preview: Golden State Warriors (12-17) at Phoenix Suns (14-19)

Golden State Warriors 106, Phoenix Suns 104

Warriors

Suns

PHOENIX — Only once this season have the Phoenix Suns pulled off what any good NBA team might call a winning streak. The Suns are looking for a third victory in a row tonight against the Golden State Warriors at home, and they could hit their second strong stretch of the season heading into a crucial All-Star week’s rest, nonetheless.

Grant Hill has been there before, and the veteran forward believes this game is a crucial one, simply to keep confidence and momentum up before All-Star weekend. Couple that with time to rest before playing nine of 11 games in US Airways coming out of the week-long break, and the opportunity is there for Phoenix to rip off a strong stretch of ball.

“The break is coming at the right time,” Hill said after Monday’s blowout win against Washington. “You want to go in, have a chance reflect on what you’ve done, what goals you want as a team moving forward.

“Good things happen when you have some momentum,” he added. “In spite of how we’ve played thus far, if we can get this win on Wednesday, which is a very winnable game, then let’s see what we can do when we get back.”

When the Warriors and Suns met on Feb. 13, Golden State pulled off the upset to earn their own three-game winning streak, the first under first-year head coach Mark Jackson. After that, they lost three games in a row to Portland, Oklahoma City and Memphis.

But in their last game on Monday, Golden State regrouped to beat the Pacific Division-leading Los Angeles Clippers.

The Suns, meanwhile, have been hard to figure out for a myriad of reasons.

Aside from not knowing whether an energy-driven team will show up opposed to a slow-moving, unenthused one, Phoenix — especially elders Steve Nash and Hill — has found success in second games of back-to-backs with a winning record of 5-4 in those situations. Add in some surprising losses at home to teams like the New Jersey Nets and Toronto Raptors, and you generally don’t know what to expect.

But this game acts as a springboard to the second half of the season, even a validation of improvement. And with a breather on the horizon, save for Nash playing in the All-Star Game and Markieff Morris in the Rising Stars game, there’s still positivity in the locker room that Phoenix can make a playoff push.

Suns head coach Alvin Gentry, though surprised in how well Nash and Hill have played in back-to-backs, must be licking his chops at the timing of this current success, the All-Star break and the favorable home schedule coming up afterward.

On Monday, Hill admitted he’s still getting into shape from the knee surgery in the offseason. It was a setback to his training, and he said that he “didn’t start running until two or three days before (training) camp.”

The same rest will be invaluable to Nash. Ever the fan of his All-Star point guard, Gentry admitted he didn’t want the two-time MVP to be selected for the NBA All-Star game on Sunday, giving himself time for as much rest and recovery as possible.

“I was kind of hoping he didn’t make it,” Gentry joked. “That’s selfish to say.”

Three keys for Phoenix

Attack Udoh. The Suns might want to be wary of what’s developing on Golden State’s young roster. And no, I’m not talking about the backcourt combo of Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis. Center Andris Biedrins was out against the Clippers, giving raw big man Ekpe Udoh his first start of the year. The second-year pro pumped in 19 points and eight rebounds in the upset, and paired with workhorse David Lee will pose match-up problems against the Suns should Mark Jackson go with him tonight. Marcin Gortat has been on a roll of late, and attacking Udoh early and possibly looking at Channing Frye at center — that might keep David Lee out of his hair — might be a way to hurt the athletic big man’s confidence.

Zone carefully. In the past week or so, Gentry has started using spurts of a zone defense. That was part of what got the Wizards in a funk on Monday, but against the Warriors, perhaps the use of zone should be relegated to the Warriors’ bench. The Suns usually pull out of the zone as soon as teams hit a jumper against it, and it’s likely not a good option to throw out against guys like Ellis and Curry, two of the better shooting guards in the league. The Suns could still use it against the Warriors’ bench — although rookie Klay Thompson is a landmine waiting to be set off — but going with a man-to-man defense the entire game wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.

Aggressive Junkyard Dog. It’s no secret that when Jared Dudley gets involved in a game offensively, he’s going to make a huge impact. While many players offer the theory that their strong defense makes their offense come easily, I’d say the opposite is true for the Suns’ starting shooting guard. Whether getting him the ball off set plays or pushing him to drive it to the hoop for a slam dunk reverse layup, getting Dudley into impact mode will go a long way toward a Phoenix victory.

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