The Phoenix Suns’ season-high seven-game winning streak has them moving up in the Western Conference, and with their next three games against sub-.500 East opponents, they have a great chance to keep climbing.
Last season’s Rookie of the Year has dominated Steve Nash(notes) and the Suns in three career meetings, and the two-time MVP may not be 100 percent as visiting Phoenix looks to avoid a fourth straight loss to Chicago on Tuesday night.
No West team has a better record than the Suns’ 21-5 mark since Jan. 28, and Phoenix (47-26) has risen to fifth place in the conference with nine games left.
Coach Alvin Gentry’s team has been peaking over the past two weeks, shooting 52.0 percent - 42.4 from 3-point range - in winning seven in a row by an average of 16.0 points.
Phoenix jumped out to a 22-point halftime lead at Minnesota on Sunday before holding on to win 111-105. Amare Stoudemire had a game-high 30 points and 17 rebounds, while Nash - who nearly sat out because of back spasms - added 14 points and 11 assists.
“This was an important game. If you lose this game, it could be disastrous,” Nash said. “So I just wanted to try and be there for the team.”
Nash is expected to play Tuesday, but that is likely contingent on how he feels prior to tip-off.
The Suns haven’t won eight in a row since Nov. 9-23, 2007. To match that run, they will have to play better than they have in recent meetings with the Bulls (35-38).
Rose has been the catalyst behind Chicago’s three straight wins in the series. He has averaged 25.3 points on 68.6 percent shooting against Phoenix and had a 32-point, three-steal effort in a 115-104 victory at the US Airways Center on Jan. 22.
“He’s already a phenomenal player, and I see him continuing to improve,” Nash said. “On a night like (that), he can play at a level that few players can play at.”
Nash, on the other hand, has hardly been at his best against Rose. He has been held to 9.7 points and 7.3 assists per game in three meetings, while averaging 5.0 turnovers.
Chicago’s quest for a second straight playoff berth appeared to be done as it lost 10 straight from Feb. 27-March 19. The team played the last four games of that slump without Rose as he sat with a sprained left wrist.
Rose returned March 20 at Philadelphia, and the Bulls have won four of five to get right back in the postseason race. He had 21 points and nine assists in a 110-103 victory over Detroit on Sunday, pulling Chicago closer to Toronto for the No. 8 seed.
“If we go on a streak for four or five games, there’s nothing they can do if they continue to lose,” Rose told the NBA’s official Web site. “We’ve just got to stay focused and not worry about them, just keep worrying about us.”
While Phoenix center Robin Lopez(notes) is out at least two weeks because of a back injury, the Bulls’ front line has long been experiencing injury woes. Joakim Noah(notes) and Taj Gibson(notes) have been playing through plantar fasciitis, which coach Vinny Del Negro revealed rookie James Johnson(notes) also is suffering from Saturday.
Noah has played the last five games after resting during the 10-game skid, and he particularly wants to be on the floor against the Suns.
“We’re playing against a better opponent Tuesday,” Noah said.