When the Phoenix Suns handed the Dallas Mavericks a rare loss more than two weeks ago, they seemed to be sending their conference rivals a message.

Instead, the Suns have struggled to split eight games since that memorable contest as they get ready to host a rematch with the Mavericks on Sunday afternoon.

The Mavericks (61-11) won the first two meetings of the season with the Suns (54-18), but blew a 15-point lead after three quarters and lost 129-127 in double overtime at home March 14. Amare Stoudemire had 41 points and 10 rebounds while Steve Nash added 32 points and 16 assists, including 10 points in the final minute of regulation.

Phoenix pulled within 2 1/2 games of the Mavericks for the best record in the league with that victory, but has been inconsistent since. The Suns suffered lopsided losses to Detroit and Denver immediately after, were ripped for 77 first-half points in a 124-119 loss at Golden State on Thursday and trailed by as many as 18 before rallying for a 125-108 win over Denver the next night.

Coach Mike D'Antoni is hoping that Friday's victory will be a turning point.

"Hopefully we found ourselves and if not that's how we have to play; we went back to what we do well and you are probably looking at the person who screwed it up," he said. "I'm going to get back to who we are and we think we can win a championship this way."

Nash and former teammate Dirk Nowitzki will meet for the final time in the regular season as they try to bolster their MVP credentials. Both have shined in the first three meetings, with Nash averaging 25.3 points and 12.7 assists, and Nowitzki leading Dallas with 30.7 points.

"It's going to be a really tough game, everybody knows that," Suns guard Leandro Barbosa said. "It will be a fun game to watch. Everybody is waiting for that game and we are waiting too."

Dallas' magic number to clinch the NBA's best record is four. With little chance of catching the Mavs now, the Suns are focused on maintaining their two-game lead over San Antonio for the second-best mark.

The Mavs responded to the loss to the Suns by pulling away from them with nine consecutive victories, and can become the first team to post four winning streaks of at least 10 games in the same season. They have survived tight finishes in each of their last two games, winning 105-103 over Milwaukee on Wednesday and by the same score over New York on Friday.

Dallas had to rally from fourth-quarter deficits in both contests. The Mavs withstood a 34-point performance from the Bucks' Michael Redd and overcame Stephon Marbury's 43 points for the Knicks.

"We hate the thought of losing. When it's a tight game we're going to do the necessary things to win," Dallas point guard Jason Terry said. "But it's not about winning streaks or wins in the regular season. It's about momentum. So when we get to the playoffs we'll be hitting on all cylinders."

Suns forward Shawn Marion has been fairly quiet against the Mavs this season, averaging 16.0 points and 8.0 rebounds. He had 33 points in Friday's win, ending a streak of 12 games in which he scored less than 20.

"It's the first time in a long while that I've touched the ball a lot and gotten into the offensive flow," said Marion, who's averaging 17.5 points, his lowest in six seasons. "You can't score without the ball. Everybody was making a big hoopla over it (his recent lack of scoring). I got some good looks tonight. It's definitely a plus when I can get involved."

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