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Bulls Seek Fourth Straight Win, Host Suns
Posted Jan 2 2007 12:38PM
Part of the Phoenix Suns' early success can be attributed to their impressive play against the Eastern Conference.
One of the Western Conference's best teams will look to continue its dominance of the East when the Suns visit the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday.
Phoenix (21-8) will try to improve to 12-1 against the East, including 7-0 on the road, when it faces a Chicago team it has beaten four straight times.
The Suns are averaging 115.8 points against Eastern teams - nearly five more than their league-leading average overall - while shooting 50.8 percent from the field. Their only loss out of conference was a 144-139 overtime defeat to Washington on Dec. 22.
The Bulls (19-12) are only percentage points behind Detroit for the best record in the East, but are 3-8 against the West this season.
The Pacific Division-leading Suns have won 18 of 20 overall, including the first two in a stretch of five straight games against Eastern foes. Phoenix swept a five-game road trip against East teams from Dec. 7-13.
After beating New York 108-86 on Friday, the Suns won 108-101 at Detroit on Sunday.
Steve Nash had 35 points and 12 assists in the latest victory for his 20th double-double of the season. He's averaged 26.0 points over the last five games to claim the team scoring lead for the season at 20.6 per game.
"He's been taking over a lot of games lately, and he did it again today,'' Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni said.
Amare Stoudemire added a season-high 31 points and 13 rebounds for his third straight double-double and fifth in six games.
Nash, though, was more pleased by the way Stoudemire played defense. Stoudemire had three blocks for the second straight game and 10 of his rebounds were at the defensive end.
"We're going to win a lot of games when Amare plays that kind of defense,'' Nash said. "He has a lot of pride and he wants to grow as a defender.''
Phoenix knocked off the Central Division leader on Sunday, and now meets the division's second-place team.
The Bulls have won three straight to nearly pull even with the Pistons, and enter this matchup with a 14-2 home record. Their only home losses were to Western teams Sacramento and Minnesota.
Chicago has fared well lately against the NBA's better teams record-wise, beating the Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 19 and most recently defeating Cleveland 103-96 on Saturday.
The Bulls finished 14-3 in December after starting the season 5-9.
"We are feeling good,'' Chicago's Luol Deng said. "We started slow, but we had a great month. We are proud of that.''
A sprained right wrist suffered in Wednesday's win over Miami has not had a negative effect on Deng. The third-year forward has scored 57 points in two games since getting hurt and is second on the team with 18.0 points per game, including a career-high 32 on 15-of-19 shooting against Cleveland.
"He has always been a good pro player and I feel he is settling in to a point where he starts to relax out there,'' Chicago coach Scott Skiles said.
Ben Gordon scored more than 20 points for the eighth straight game Saturday and leads the Bulls with 20.2 per game. He scored 39 points the last time he faced the Suns, but the Bulls lost 118-101 at Phoenix on Feb. 4, 2006.
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