The Phoenix Suns finally showed they can beat one of the Western Conference’s top teams. Now they’d like to do it for a second consecutive game.
Though their franchise-record winning streak ended earlier this week, the Suns still have a lengthy streak at home on the line as they try to take advantage of Carlos Boozer’s absence in a matchup with the Utah Jazz.
Phoenix (37-9) is only a half-game behind Dallas for the league’s best record after beating San Antonio 103-87 on Thursday. It was the team’s first game since having its record run of 17 straight wins snapped with a 121-112 loss to Minnesota on Monday.
“The playoffs are going to tell it all, and we know that,” Suns coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We’re just trying to win as many games as we can to get the homecourt seed, and if we’re good enough, we’ll see in the playoffs.”
Before Thursday’s victory, the Suns had been 0-6 against the other top teams in the West record-wise—the Mavericks, Spurs, Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers.
Two of those losses came to Utah in November during Phoenix’s 3-6 start. The team has since lost only three of 37 games.
“The team that played those guys in early November is not even close to being the same team today,” D’Antoni said of his Suns, referring to a 111-106 overtime loss at San Antonio on Nov. 8.
That game marked the first start of the season for Amare Stoudemire, who missed most of last season following microfracture knee surgery. He had 24 points and a career-high 23 rebounds Thursday, hours after being selected as an All-Star reserve along with teammates Steve Nash and Shawn Marion.
A knee problem now has sidelined Boozer, who has missed the last two games and is expected to sit out at least a few more weeks with a hairline fracture. Utah’s only All-Star selection, Boozer averaged 21.5 points and 14.0 rebounds in the two meetings with Phoenix.
The Jazz (30-17) handed the Suns one of their only three home losses all season, but Phoenix has won 19 of its last 20 home games. That run includes 10 wins in a row since a 144-139 overtime loss to Washington on Dec. 22.
Utah, meanwhile, overcame Boozer’s absence to beat the Spurs 97-93 on Wednesday in its most recent outing.
“It was a must-win game for us, especially without Carlos,” said Mehmet Okur, who had 31 points and 11 rebounds. “That’s how we’ve got to play night in, night out. Without Boozer, everybody’s got to step up.”
In Boozer’s absence, two of Utah’s offseason acquisitions are being asked to step up. Rafael Araujo had seven points and five rebounds against San Antonio while playing aggressive defense on Tim Duncan, and rookie Paul Millsap had 15 points and eight boards after posting consecutive double-doubles earlier in the week.
“The encouraging thing was that Rafa played well and Millsap keeps getting better every day,” Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. “That’s a tremendous thing for this franchise.”