The three-time defending Pacific Division champion Phoenix Suns are again in first place despite not playing with their usual high intensity lately. A matchup against the Toronto Raptors may help to regain that swagger.
The Suns look to sweep their fourth straight season series over the Raptors on Saturday night at US Airways Center.
Phoenix (18-8) won 13 of 15 games from Nov. 9-Dec. 7 to jump out in front of the Pacific, but it has won just two of six since. The Suns averaged 120.8 points during a five-game run from Nov. 30-Dec. 7, but are averaging 102.0 points in their last six.
"Y'all can write what it is you want to, but they're battling out there," Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni said after Wednesday's 108-105 loss to Dallas.
The Suns trailed by 14 midway through the fourth quarter, and had a chance to tie the score but Steve Nash badly missed a 3-pointer in the closing seconds. Phoenix was unable to overcome an early deficit. The Suns were down 37-20 after the first quarter, as they turned the ball over six times.
"We need to get off to better starts,'' said Nash, who finished with 21 points and 18 assists. "We have to be more consistent with our effort, especially at the start of the game.''
The two-time MVP had 10 points and 18 assists in Phoenix's 136-123 victory over the Raptors on Dec. 5. The Suns finished with a season high in points as seven Phoenix players reached double figures.
The Suns have not lost to Toronto since Nash re-joined the club before the 2004-05 season. Phoenix is averaging 115.7 points during their seven-game winning streak over the Raptors, and Nash is averaging 16.4 points and 12.3 assists in those games.
Leandro Barbosa, who is third on the Suns in scoring with 16.8 points per game this season, had a game-high 35 points on 14-of-23 shooting against the Raptors earlier this month.
Amare Stoudemire had 25 points on 9-of-11 shooting against Toronto. He also scored 25 against Dallas and added eight rebounds and four blocks.
The Raptors (15-13) are coming off a 123-115 loss to Seattle on Friday, as their late rally came up short. Toronto trailed by 18 with 4:09 left in the fourth quarter, before pulling within five with 36 seconds left.
"We battled back, but then you have to try and play perfect basketball and you make one mistake and it deflates you,'' Raptors coach Sam Mitchell said.
Chris Bosh finished with 26 points and 13 rebounds for his fourth double-double in five games. Bosh didn't face Phoenix earlier this month due to a groin injury.
Anthony Parker, who matched a season high with 22 points against the Suns, finished Friday with 18, including four 3-pointers.
Toronto, which is 1-2 on its season-high seven-game road trip, hasn't won in Phoenix since a 101-94 victory on Feb. 10, 2004. The Suns have won seven of 10 at home this season.
Copyright 2007 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited