Planet Orange has been victorious in 10 of their last 12 games -- including a blockbuster blowout last night against an undermanned Philadelphia 76ers at home -- which matches their winning streak from the beginning of the season (right around the time they went 14-3).
Going on a lengthy winning streak is exactly what the Suns need to be doing, given the ultra-competitive Western Conference. Only 2 1/2 games separate fourth-place Phoenix (36-23) from the eighth-place Portland Trailblazers (34-26) in the standings, meaning any slip-ups could cost the team a playoff spot.
One of those potential potholes is the health of Steve Nash. Goran Dragic filled in nicely at point guard during the Suns' remarkable last-seconds win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday, but Phoenix is going to need their captain (and his 17.6 points per game) if it hopes to remain competitive down the stretch. And -- more importantly -- stand a chance in the postseason.
And here's why: After a night off to rehab his aching back and abdomen, Nash came on strong against the 76ers in the first period with 14 points, two defensive rebounds, and five assists. His performance helped Phoenix pretty much control the game from start to finish; the Suns grabbed the lead after the opening tip-off and never relinquished it.
When Steveo took a break during the first few minutes of the second period, however, Philly cut a double-digit lead down to only three, necessitating his quick return to the game.
The 76ers (struggling while such stars as Allan Iverson, Willie Green, and Francisco Elson are MIA) also fought back in the second half. Down by as much as 25 at one point, starters Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young helped close the gap to 13 points in the fourth. Only this time, Jason Richardson (24 points) and Amar'e Stoudemire (22 points) kept Philadelphia from getting closer and allowed Nash to ride the pine.
"Personally, it was nice to afford to miss a game and then come back," Nash said in the locker room afterward. "I wasn't sure how my body was going to feel. It was okay, but the rest did me good."
He'll get two days off to relax his aching muscles before the Los Angeles Clippers step into US Airways Center on Friday night. And if the rest of Phoenix's lineup can trounce El Lay's lesser team like they did during their 124-93 massacre on Christmas Day, maybe Nash will get even more sit-out time. Unlike the Suns, the Clips are far from playoff contention at 24-33, almost nine games back from the rest of the pack. They've won their last three games, however, albeit against sub-.500 teams (Detroit, Charlotte, and Sacramento).
Tip-off is 7 p.m. TV: Fox Sports Arizona. Radio: KTAR 620-AM. More info: www.suns.com.