The trade rumors have come and gone, but Amare Stoudemire continues to remain a steady force for the Phoenix Suns.
Stoudemire on Sunday night looks to help the Suns earn a four-game season series sweep over the struggling Sacramento Kings.
Speculation had the All-Star forward heading out of Phoenix, but no trade scenario materialized and he remained with the Suns following Thursday’s deadline.
The decision to keep him doesn’t come without risk since Stoudemire could opt out of the final year of his contract - worth $17.7 million - next season That would leave Phoenix with little money to spend on a replacement in the summer.
If there was any stress over the rumors or that upcoming decision, it hasn’t shown in Stoudemire’s play as he’s averaged 25.6 points over the past nine games and scored at least 20 in each.
Stoudemire leads Phoenix with 21.4 points and 8.7 rebounds per game while shooting 55.1 percent.
“The last week or week and a half, he’s just been playing,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “He’s put it all behind him. He played well. I’m proud of the way he’s handled the situation. I think he’s done great.”
The Suns (33-23), currently sixth in a tight Western Conference race, come in having won seven of nine, including an 88-80 victory Friday against visiting Atlanta.
Stoudemire had 22 points, but Phoenix matched its lowest scoring output this season. The Suns made up for it with their stingiest defensive performance.
Though Phoenix has won all three games this season from Sacramento, none have been blowouts. The league’s top scoring team (109.3 ppg) appear to have simply outlasted its Pacific Division rivals.
Sacramento has averaged 106.0 points in each defeat but given up 114.0. In a 114-102 home loss Feb. 5, the Kings trailed by 25 entering the fourth quarter before making the final score more respectable.
A matchup with the Kings (18-37) might come at a good time for Nash, who is averaging 6.3 points and shooting 29.6 percent since the All-Star break. After the win over Atlanta, Gentry said the point guard and two-time league MVP was “mentally drained” from a whirlwind week that included carrying the torch at the Olympics in his native Canada and winning the skills competition and competing during All-Star weekend in Dallas.
Nash has averaged 29.0 points on 54.9 percent shooting in his last five games against Sacramento.
Facing the Kings could also help Phoenix earn back-to-back home wins for the first time in a month.
With Saturday’s 99-89 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, Sacramento dropped to 5-23 since Dec. 22 and 5-24 on the road this season.
Rookie Tyreke Evans(notes), averaging a team-best 20.3 points against Phoenix, scored 21 in the loss to the Clippers. Carl Landry(notes), acquired from Houston on Thursday, had 10 points and eight rebounds in his Sacramento debut.
“I had some good looks, but traveled a couple of times - something I don’t usually do,” said Landry, who was averaging 16.1 points for the Rockets. “It’s only going to get better. There’s nowhere to go but up.”
Winners in 15 of 17 against the Kings, the Suns haven’t lost at home to Sacramento in eight matchups since Nov. 6, 2005.