Streaking Suns journey East


PHOENIX (AP) – The Phoenix Suns are streaking again. This time it’s 13 and counting as they head east for five games in seven days.

Earlier in the season, the Suns won a franchise-best 15 straight. In their last 31 games, their only losses were 144-139 in overtime on Dec. 22 at home to Washington and 101-99 at Dallas on Dec. 27.

“I just think it means we’re a very good team and that we’re hopefully building something special,” said Steve Nash, the two-time defending MVP who makes the frenetic Phoenix game go. “These streaks are meaningless to the guys out here. I hope it’s fun for the fans and the media, but for us it’s all about trying to get better and preparing for the playoffs.”

A victory at Washington on Tuesday night would make the Suns 33-8 halfway through the season, matching the 1994-95 squad for best in franchise history.

“I think this is the best team I’ve ever been on,” Nash said. “Talent, depth, versatility, chemistry. I think those are a lot of strengths that we have.”

Phoenix leads the league in scoring (111.5) and point differential (nine). With six players capable of a 20-point night any time out, coach Mike D’Antoni is seeing the game played the way he envisioned it.

“To be honest with you, I really enjoy when the jump ball goes up just to watch our ball movement,” the coach said after the team’s light workout Monday. “I just think it’s incredible how they’re sharing the basketball, running the floor, spacing, the unselfishness of all of them. It’s fun as a coach to watch them do it. As a coach, you can’t ask for anything better.”

Fate seems to have been with the Suns, too. During the current streak, seven opponents have been missing key players, six of them all-stars. Minnesota didn’t have its top two scorers – Kevin Garnett and Ricky Davis – in the Suns’ 131-102 rout of the Timberwolves on Sunday night.

Still, Phoenix is one of eight teams in NBA history to reel off two winning streaks of at least 13 games. Of the previous seven, only two – the 1946-47 Washington Capitals and 1996-97 Utah Jazz – failed to win the NBA championship.

Until that happens for the Suns, there will be questions about whether Phoenix can win it all with its up-and-down style.

“In North America, the regular season really doesn’t matter too much,” Nash said. “You get an extra game at home, but other than that, the sports culture here isn’t one of rewarding a team for a long stretch of success. It’s all about the playoffs.”

Besides Washington, the trip east includes stops in New York, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Minnesota.

“We have a big target on our back. It’s going to be a challenge every stop,” Nash said. “I think it’s good. I think it’s time for us to go out on the road and try to stand up for ourselves and our record and keep improving.”

Nash’s scraggly beard is probably not making the trip. He joined several other players in deciding not to shave until the streak is over, but he’s choosing comfort over superstition.

“It’s just a matter of getting some clippers because I’m scared to put a razor to it right now,” he said.

Phoenix made it to the Western Conference finals the past two seasons, and the Suns believe they are better equipped to go farther this year with Amare Stoudemire’s increasingly imposing presence inside.

Stoudemire, who missed all but three games of last season following knee surgery, is averaging 28 points and 8.8 rebounds, shooting 60 percent, in his last four games.

“It feels great to finally be back on the court, being able to contribute and play strong and good basketball,” he said. “It definitely feels great and it’s been a long time coming.”

Shawn Marion, meanwhile, is the only NBA player ranked in the top 25 in scoring, rebounds, field goal percentage, steals, blocked shots, double-doubles and minutes played. He had 17 points and 20 rebounds in just three quarters against the Timberwolves.

With the surrounding cast of Boris Diaw, Raja Bell, Leandro Barbosa and an improving James Jones, the Suns are loaded with versatility, speed and shooting ability.

Kurt Thomas, the eighth player in the rotation and a strong interior defender, is out another three to five weeks with an elbow injury. In his absence, D’Antoni says he might stick with a seven-man rotation, a move skeptics say could wear out the Suns out before the postseason.

“A lot of people see a need that’s really not a need,” D’Antoni said. “Our guys are in great physical shape and feel good. They’re not getting burned out.”

Nash, who turns 32 in two weeks, is averaging a career-best 19.3 points and a league-leading 11.5 assists. D’Antoni said he notices “a little bit of an edge” to his point guard, an attitude born of the belief that an NBA title is within reach.

“I look at the teams we need to beat to win it this year, and we’re very capable,” Nash said. “But they’re teams that are going to play with a lot of discipline and they’re not going to give away games and points and possessions, no matter if it’s January or the playoffs.

“We have to play with that same attitude. If we do, our talent is as good as anybody’s.”