Preview: Phoenix Suns (17-21) at New York Knicks (22-17)


Phoenix Suns 129, New York Knicks 121

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns have not won a road game since their Orlando acquisitions joined the roster, yet that’s exactly the place the team hopes to make up some ground in the race for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.

That optimism reigns from the fact that after the Suns depart Madison Square Garden following their Monday matinee against the New York Knicks, the other four games on the road trip will all be played against losing teams.

Those four teams enter Monday a combined 49-108 (.312 winning percentage), and the Suns have already beaten three of them in US Airways Center.

“Our goal should be at least win at least four,” Jared Dudley said. “For us every one’s big, but our mentality is, ‘Hey, let’s go in, steal one in New York and then Cleveland’s struggling, Wizards are struggling, Philly’s struggling, Detroit’s struggling,’ so this could be a good road trip for us and turn our season around.”

Added Grant Hill: “We have some winnable games. Obviously New York is playing well and they get up because of Amare and coach D’Antoni, and we have some teams that we should beat, or at least it appears that we have a better record than them. Philadelphia, we remember that loss, it was a tough loss. Hopefully we’ll feel good about ourselves when we come back.”

For the Suns to turn their season around on the trip and feel good about themselves, they must continue to build on their fourth quarter Wednesday against the Nets and their second half Friday against the Blazers. The Suns played well at both ends of the floor in those three quarters to get the wins, their first pair of victories in a row since early December.

The first test of the trip is undoubtedly the toughest against Amare and a Knicks squad that embarrassed the Suns by 25 a week and a half ago. This has been a tough stop the last two years even when the Knicks were terrible as New York blew out the Suns by 27 last year in The World’s Most Famous Arena and topped them by five the year before under D’Antoni.

In that last game we saw Alvin Gentry go unconventional by telling Josh Childress 10 minutes before tipoff he would be the starting center as the Suns wanted to start Grant Hill on Amare Stoudemire. The Knicks decimated the small Suns on the boards, 59-34, and drilled 17 three-pointers on a spaced floor, one shy of a Suns opponent record.

It was one of those nights when the Knicks were hitting everything, but the Suns’ defense certainly didn’t help much, especially when they constantly went under picks on Raymond Felton, who scored 23 points and drilled five threes on his way to his first career triple-double.

It will be interesting to see how Alvin Gentry adjusts in this one against the Knicks, who scored 83 points on 31.5 percent shooting from the field and 32.1 percent shooting from three in an ugly loss to the Kings on Friday. That poor performance was blamed on it being New York’s first game back from a long road trip. Also, sharpshooter Danilo Gallinari is expected to return from a sprained left knee for this one after missing the past few weeks.

It’s strange for the Suns to be the heavy underdog in this matchup, but that’s exactly what they are after the Knicks out-Suns’ed the Suns in their matchup in US Airways Center. The Suns know they need to do a much better chasing New York’s shooters off the three-point line, and it will be interesting to see if Marcin Gortat gets more time defending Amare since he was Phoenix’s best defender on STAT by far in the last meeting.

With this contest figuring to be a shootout, perhaps the Suns’ offense can continue to get in gear with the team having hit the century mark in three of four after not doing so in four straight for the first time since December 2005.

I also wonder if this trip can do wonders for the team’s chemistry. To me that’s one of the biggest missing ingredients for this club, and what better way to develop chemistry than to spend a week and a half on the road with only the team in five different cities, starting with The City That Never Sleeps.

“I hope so,” Dudley said. “If you can’t go out together in New York where can you go out? So hopefully that can start.”

Beating the Knicks would be a bonus, but after that a road trip can’t get much easier than what Phoenix will face the rest of the week. With the Suns reaching the midpoint of their schedule when they depart the Big Apple, the rest of the trip represents a huge opportunity to return to .500 and legitimately get back into the playoff picture.

And 1

Fans can win two tickets to the 2011 All-Star Game in Los Angeles by entering the Fanvibe NBA All-Star Ticket Contest. To enter fans can visit Fanvibe’s Facebook page, like it and explain why they deserve to win or tweet that explanation to @FanVibe with the hashtag #Fanvibe. … Jon Pastuszek broke down Steve Nash’s new Chinese shoe deal with Lu You. Certainly seems like a move to open up post-playing career opportunities for Nash in China.