NBA.com Daily Confidential

Winners of three straight since Steve Nash's return, the Phoenix Suns will be looking for a bit of revenge for a second straight game Sunday when they visit Joe Johnson and the Atlanta Hawks.

The Suns (42-13) are coming off Friday's 116-104 victory over a Minnesota team which snapped their franchise-record 17-game winning streak on Jan. 29.

It was Phoenix's third win in as many games following the All-Star break, a stretch coinciding with Nash getting back in the lineup after missing four games with an injured shoulder.

His absence was a big reason the Suns went into the break on a three-game losing streak, a slump started by a 120-111 home loss to Atlanta (22-33) on Feb. 9.

Johnson, who keyed Phoenix's run to the Western Conference finals two years ago before being traded, scored 17 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter to help the Hawks end a five-game losing streak to the Suns. The All-Star guard also had eight rebounds and five assists.

"I'm very proud for Joe," Atlanta coach Mike Woodson said after that win. "This is not about Joe against Phoenix. Joe's been playing well for us all season long."

Nash has been outstanding for the Suns all season long, and continues to show why he will be strongly considered for a third straight MVP award. He's averaged 13.3 assists since returning while trying to rediscover his shooting touch, helping the Suns score at least 115 points in all three games and shoot 51.6 percent from the field.

"Having him in there passing that ball is good for us," Suns guard Raja Bell said. "We're not a half-court team."

Shawn Marion clearly has benefited from having Nash back on the floor. The All-Star forward has averaged 25.0 points in the last three games after failing to score more than 12 in any of the four games Nash missed.

"The opportunities are there and sometimes they are not," said Marion, who also has 34 rebounds and nine blocks over the past three games. "I'm not forcing the issue. I'm just taking what's given to me and going with the flow of the game and the flow of the offense."

The Hawks are in the midst of a brutal stretch of consecutive games against four of the Western Conference's top five teams record-wise. Atlanta will visit league-best Dallas on Monday following this contest, which closes a three-game homestand during which Atlanta has faced San Antonio and Houston.

Johnson scored 30 points in a 103-96 loss to the Spurs, and his 31 against the Rockets on Friday lifted the Hawks to a 105-99 victory.

Atlanta scored well above its league-low average of 92.6 points per game en route to its first win in three games since the All-Star break.

"It's really big," said Hawks forward Josh Smith, who scored 20 points. "It let us get our swagger back. We got some confidence back."


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