Led by two-time league MVP Steve Nash, the three-time defending Pacific Division champion Phoenix Suns were once again expected to be one of the best teams in the league.
The New Orleans Hornets, meanwhile, were not predicted to one of the NBA's top teams after three straight losing seasons, but are right with Phoenix near the top of the highly competitive Western Conference.
The veteran Suns look to win their fifth straight game and slow down the surprising Hornets as two of the West's top teams square off in Phoenix on Saturday.
The Pacific Division-leading Suns (23-9) have moved ahead of San Antonio atop the West thanks to their winning streak. Phoenix is just a half-game ahead of the second-place Spurs, who are only one game in front of Dallas and New Orleans (22-11) in the Southwest Division.
The Hornets have won seven of their last eight games to climb the standings.
"We're under the radar. Not too many people are talking about us nationally,'' New Orleans center Tyson Chandler said. "I hope they don't. It allows us to come in and sneak up on guys. A lot of times when teams get up for you, that's when you have letdowns. Right now we're sneaking in under the radar.''
The Hornets beat the Suns 101-98 at home on Dec. 15, snapping a six-game losing streak to Phoenix. The Suns have still won 11 of their last 13 games over New Orleans.
Phoenix is coming off a 104-96 win over Seattle on Thursday, as the league's highest-scoring team tallied 91 points in the final three quarters. The Suns, who average 109.2 points, trailed 33-13 after the first period on just 4-for-20 shooting.
Amare Stoudemire had another outstanding performance on Thursday, scoring 34 points on 11-of-19 shooting while grabbing 11 rebounds. The two-time All-Star is averaging 30.8 points on 67.1 percent shooting and 13.3 boards in his last four games, and the Suns are 12-0 when Stoudemire has at least 20 points and 10 rebounds.
"Personally, I just want to get better and grow as a player and I want to get to my full potential," said Stoudemire, who had 16 points and eight rebounds in last month's loss to the Hornets. "Due to the injuries and minor set backs, at the start of the season I started off a little slow. But now I'm starting to feel better, my legs are back, my conditioning level is where it should be, and it should go higher from there."
Nash had 17 points and 10 assists on Thursday, but had just 12 points and seven assists in the loss to New Orleans.
Phoenix has won four straight home games, and is 10-3 at the US Airways Center.
New Orleans, which is a conference-leading 13-5 on the road, won 116-104 at Golden State on Friday, its season-high fifth straight road win. The Hornets have not won six consecutive road games since reeling off a franchise-record seven from Feb. 21-March 24, 1998, when the team was in Charlotte.
"We've been a great road team since the start of the season,'' Chris Paul said. "I think it's just us being focused. I've always loved playing on the road. You're always an underdog, the crowd is against you. It really shows your will. Our team really has a strong willpower.''
Paul had 24 points and 13 assists against the Warriors, and had 21 and 10, respectively, against the Suns last month.
Chandler had a season-high 22 points and matched a season best with 22 rebounds on Friday. He is averaging 16.2 points and 16.8 boards during the road winning streak, and had 14 points and 18 rebounds against Phoenix.
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