They’ll square off for the third time when the Suns visit the Sonics at KeyArena.
Phoenix and Seattle both finished well out of the postseason last season, going 29-53 and 37-45, respectively.
While the Suns have been galvanized by the addition of All-Star point guard Steve Nash, battling San Antonio for the best record in the NBA, the Sonics have orchestrated their reversal of fortune with virtually the same cast of players.
Seattle boasts a 12 1/2 -game lead over second-place Denver in the newly formed Northwest Conference, and through Saturday’s games, Phoenix was 9 1/2 in front of Sacramento in the Pacific—a division dominated by the Kings and Los Angeles Lakers in recent years.
The Sonics dropped two straight entering the All-Star break, but have quickly re-established themselves as a Western Conference power, winning six of their last seven games, including a 95-87 victory over defending NBA champion Detroit on Friday.
Rashard Lewis scored 18 points to lead five Sonics in double figures and Seattle outrebounded Detroit 49-33 in the opener of a four-game homestand.
“These are the types of games you’ll be playing at this time of the season, where it’s grind-it-out,” Seattle coach Nate McMillan said. “You’ve got to make breaks for yourself and you’ve got to have good execution, good defense and you’ve got to play with heart.”
The Suns are coming off Saturday’s 129-116 rout of Portland. Shawn Marion had 26 points and nine rebounds for Phoenix, which has won four of five since the break.
Suns coach Mike D’Antoni was able to rest starters Marion, Amare Stoudemire and Nash for the entire fourth quarter after the Suns went ahead 102-78 after three.
“After the second quarter, we got the job done,” D’Antoni said. “We got a lot of rest for our guys. The game went exactly the way we hoped.”
The extra rest should help Nash against the Sonics, but it cost him a chance to become the first player with 11 or more assists in 13 consecutive games since Utah’s John Stockton in 1990-91. Nash, who missed three games last week with a sore hamstring, finished with nine points and eight assists in 24 minutes.