After missing the playoffs last spring with their worst record since signing Steve Nash(notes) before the 2004-05 season, the Phoenix Suns have one of the league’s best records two weeks into 2009-10.
The Suns, though, refuse to say they’ve returned to the NBA’s elite just yet.
Trying not to make too much of their early success, the Suns look to cap a strong five-game trip with another win Monday night when they meet the Philadelphia 76ers.
Phoenix finished 10 games above .500 at 46-36 last season, but that was only good enough for ninth place in the Western Conference, keeping the Suns out of the postseason for the first time since 2004.
The Suns (6-1) expect to get back to the playoffs this season, but they’re not taking anything for granted despite their strong start.
“The minute we start to say we’re a certain caliber team, there’s a danger,” Nash said after finishing with 11 points and 17 assists in Phoenix’s 102-90 win over Washington on Sunday. “We just got to keep being humble, keep treating this as a project. It’s going to take the whole season.”
It might be a long-term project, but Nash appears to be in midseason form already. He’s averaging 17.9 points and leading the league with 11.9 assists per game while shooting 51.1 percent from the field.
Despite delivering a double-double against the Wizards to help Phoenix improve to 3-1 on its road trip, Nash wasn’t thrilled with Sunday’s performance. The Suns hadn’t scored fewer points or shot a worse percentage from the field (47.7) in a win this season.
“We just weren’t really fresh today,” Nash said. “Maybe it was (because it was) the first day game of the season. We really didn’t have a great bounce to us, we didn’t really push the ball, we weren’t really aggressive to start. That was the difference.
“We had some chances to be up 15 or 20. We just didn’t really have energy to us today, but mentally we were tough and stuck with it at times and got it done.”
The 76ers (3-3) couldn’t say the same after falling 88-81 at Detroit on Sunday. Andre Iguodala(notes) had 24 points and went 9 for 16 from the field, but the rest of the Philadelphia starters combined to shoot 30.6 percent (11 for 36). The Sixers were outrebounded 51-39, giving up 21 offensive boards to the Pistons.
“I thought we took midrange shots that we will make on a normal basis,” first-year Philadelphia coach Eddie Jordan said. “The story of the game was that we could not rebound the basketball. We shot ourselves in the foot with their offensive rebounds and some plays that we didn’t finish at the basket.”
Thaddeus Young(notes) contributed to Philadelphia’s offensive woes, finishing with 10 points and shooting 4 for 13. The third-year forward is averaging 15.3 points and shooting 51.5 percent in the Sixers’ three wins, but he’s been held to 9.7 points and 28.9 percent shooting in the three losses.
Young appears to have a good chance for a strong performance against the Suns, who are giving up 106.8 points per game - one of the highest marks in the league. Young averaged 24.0 points and made 20 of 31 shots (64.5 percent) as Philadelphia and Phoenix split two meetings last season.
Nash had 24 points and 10 assists in a 126-116 home win over the Sixers on March 18, but was limited to two points on 1-for-8 shooting in a 108-91 loss at the Wachovia Center on Feb. 9.