After playing six games in nine days against strong opponents, the Phoenix Suns finally got a bit of rest this week.
They won’t be viewing Friday’s game like a night off.
The Suns will try to win their seventh straight home game on Friday when they face the Minnesota Timberwolves, who’ve already beaten Phoenix twice this season.
Five of the Suns’ last six games were on the road and five were against teams with winning records, and the difficult stretch began with road losses to Detroit and Boston last week. But the Suns (50-25) won three straight before dropping a close game on Tuesday, erasing a 14-point deficit but losing 126-120 at Denver.
After two days off, Phoenix would appear to get an easy return to action with a matchup against Minnesota (19-55), which has lost four of five and five straight on the road.
But the Suns have had their hands full with the Timberwolves this season. Though they won 115-95 at home on Jan. 18, the Suns lost both of their games in Minnesota and now will try to avoid losing the season series for the first time since 2003-04.
Timberwolves center Al Jefferson is averaging 32.7 points and 16.3 rebounds in the three games, and he scored 39 points in a 117-107 win on Jan. 23 in the most recent meeting.
“Our intensity didn’t quite match up to theirs,” Suns forward Amare Stoudemire said after that game. “They turned it up, and we kind of turned it down.”
Phoenix hopes to move up in a crowded Western Conference in its final seven games. The Suns trail the Los Angeles Lakers by one game for the Pacific Division lead, and they’re 2 1/2 games behind conference-leading New Orleans.
Phoenix has been handed 10 technicals in the last three games, and hasn’t been happy with the officiating. Stoudemire, who had 25 points Tuesday, has been especially outspoken.
“Raja got ejected for smiling. I never saw that in my career. All he did was smile at the official and got ejected,” Stoudemire said. “That was key for us. Raja is one of our key players. It’s a big playoff atmosphere, both teams are fighting for the playoffs and one of our starters gets ejected for smiling.”
While the Suns have struggled against Minnesota this season, they’ve won four straight home games in the series and six in a row at home to close March. They haven’t won seven straight at home since last season.
Minnesota, meanwhile, has won fewer road games than any other NBA team, going 5-31 on the road this season. The Timberwolves lost 117-100 at Utah on Wednesday, hanging in the game until halftime but getting outscored 38-22 in the third quarter.
Jefferson went a season-high fourth straight game without a double-double, grabbing a season-low two rebounds, but six Timberwolves scored in double figures as they impressed Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.
“I really like their team, the way they play, they way they set screens and they knock you around,” Sloan said. “They’ll be a very good team in a couple of years if you give them a chance to get better, the way they play and the way they execute.”