Preview: Phoenix Suns (20-22) at Los Angeles Clippers (24-17)

 Phoenix Suns 91, Los Angeles Clippers 87



PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns have enjoyed the friendly confines of US Airways Center since the All-Star break.

Fresh off a 120-11 home win against the Utah Jazz, the Suns are 6-2 since the break, having played seven of those eight games at home. During that stretch they’ve played only one back-t0-back set while traveling away from Phoenix only once. As a result the Suns are one of the hottest teams in the Western Conference, and life has been good on Planet Orange.

These next two days have the potential to change that, however.

The Suns will complete the final two games of a back-to-back-to-back over the course of the next two days, and the legs of Steve Nash and Grant Hill will be tested more than ever. For everyone from Hill to Nash to Marcin Gortat, it’s time to pull out all the stops in order to stay fresh.

“We’re going to obviously try to take a rest as much as possible, sleep well, eat a lot and try to get different treatments: cold tubs, hot tubs, steam rooms and all different massages just to make sure that we are going to be ready,” Gortat said. “Besides maybe two, three guys on the team, we are kind of a young team so we should be fine.”

The Suns jettisoned to Los Angeles last night after the Jazz victory and will have the Clippers in Staples Center tonight before turning their attention to the Detroit Pistons at home on Friday. For a team relient on nightly production from a 38-year-old and a 39-year-old, stretches like these are dreadful — just ask Nash.

“Good win. Taking off for LA. The NBA AAU schedule has us playing 3 in a row,” Nash Tweeted sarcastically last night.

Nash and the Suns know all too well about the effect of back-to-back-to-backs. Phoenix left its last — and only — back-to-back-to-back set winless after dropping games to Golden State, Denver, and Atlanta on consecutive nights.

But this three-game set is different. The Suns already have one win in the bag, tonight they take on a Clippers team also on a back-to-back, and the Detroit Pistons are 4-16 on the road.

If Phoenix continues its recent play while rediscovering some of the defense it flashed in its five home games after the break, the Suns could very well chip away at the 3.0 games that separate them from the Western Conference eight seed.

While the Clippers are a daunting task on paper, Lob City is anything but soaring. Chirs Paul and company did take care of the Hawks in a 14-point home win last night, but the Clippers are 4-5 since the All-Star break and 2-4 in their last six games.

Phoenix already took care of the Clippers on March 2 and the Suns have the pieces to steal another win in Los Angeles despite the fatigue that comes with a back-to-back-to-back.

“We beat LA once this year so we’re definitely confident with that,” said shooting guard Jared Dudley. “When you’re winning, you just want to play games. I don’t care if it’s a back-to-back. For us, the more games the better. I don’t know if G-Hill will mind, but for myself personally, let’s throw the ball up.”

Dudley is champing at the bit as much as anyone as he’s been playing some of the best basketball of his career. Over the course of his last five games the 6-foot-7 Boston College product is averaging 20.6 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.0 steal, and 1.0 block while shooting 53.4 percent from the field in 36.2 minutes per game.

Most recently Dudley is averaging 24.5 points in his last two contests and it’s no coincidence the Suns are winning. Dudley’s proudest accomplishment can’t be measured in a box score, however. The surging swingman threw down his first dunk of the year last night against the Jazz after talking a big game in the preseason.

“I don’t start fast, but I end with a bang,” Dudley said on Wednesday night. “You guys know how I do last year. Hopefully they start coming a little more frequently.”

In addition to Dudley’s play the Suns have also received a boost from Channing Frye, who scored 26 and 18, respectively, in his last two games after struggling mightily early in the year. Between Nash and Gortat, along with the major contributions from Dudley and Frye, the Suns are hitting stride at the right time.

Then again, three games in three nights could change that rather quickly.

Kevin Zimmerman contributed to this report. 


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