Heading into Sunday night's first-round playoff opener against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Phoenix Suns look like a team that's going to be tough to beat.
Against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday, in a game that had big seeding implications for both teams, the Suns looked like a supremely confident squad, cruising to a 100-86 win in Salt Lake City and locking up the number-three seed and home-court advantage for at least the first round of the playoffs.
The Jazz walked away from the loss with the fifth seed and will face the Denver Nuggets on the road Saturday.
Getting the third seed (as opposed to the fourth or fifth) was also important because it means that if the Suns get past the Blazers in their first-round, seven-game series, they will avoid the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers in the second round. The Lakers will play the eighth-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder in Los Angeles on Sunday afternoon.
On Wednesday night in Utah, Amar'e Stoudemire led the way for the Suns with 20 points and seven rebounds in just 32 minutes, and Steve Nash had 11 assists in just 28 minutes. With the game in hand, Coach Alvin Gentry gave the Suns bench mop-up duty, with five second-teamers playing at least 19 minutes each and three of them (Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley, and Channing Frye) scoring in double digits.
"[The bench] were the ones who got us separation," Gentry said after the game. "They do a good job. They totally believe in each other. That's why we put them in and leave them in for a long time sometimes."
So the Suns, a team picked by many to be outside looking in at season's end, head into the playoffs with a 23-6 record after the All-Star break. That's the best in the Western Conference and proof the Suns could be in for a long playoff run.
The fun gets under way at 7 p.m. Sunday at US Airways Center. TV: My45, For more info, go to www.suns.com