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Something will be exposed in clash of streaking teams

January 23, 2007 12:50 am

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Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni is pushing all the right buttons for the red-hot Suns, who'll foray into the Verizon Center tonight. spstoudemire.jpg.jpg

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By ADAM HIMMELSBACH
By ADAM HIMMELSBACH

WASHINGTON--The Phoenix Suns might have forgotten what it feels like to lose a game.

It's happened just twice since Nov. 20, and it has yet to happen this year.

But the Wizards haven't forgotten what it feels like to beat the Suns.

On Dec. 22 in Arizona, Washington snapped Phoenix's franchise-best 15-game winning streak with a 144-139 overtime victory.

The Suns made it to the arena about two hours before that game, as a snowstorm delayed their departure from Denver after their win over the Nuggets.

Unfortunately for the Wizards, the recent touch of winter in Washington is not expected impact the Suns when the two teams meet in the Verizon Center tonight.

This time around, Western Conference-leading Phoenix (32-8) is toting a 13-game winning streak. The Wizards (24-16), who hold the top seed in the Eastern Conference, have won 10 consecutive home games.

"Our streak's still going," said Wizards point guard Gilbert Arenas, who scored 54 points in last month's game against the Suns. "We've got a Phoenix team that's hot like fire coming in here. We have to play like wild dogs out there."

Along with the fact that these two teams lead their respective conferences, this game is chock full of subplots.

The Suns and Wizards are the top scoring teams in the NBA, averaging 111.5 and 107.5 points per game, respectively.

Arenas and Suns point guard Steve Nash are two of the top candidates for league MVP. Nash has won the award the last two seasons.

Heck, tonight's game is even a matchup of the respective conference players of the week, as Nash and Wizards forward Caron Butler were both recognized yesterday.

"The Suns are just unbelievable, man," Butler said. "They get up and down in transition. They get good play from [Leandro] Barbosa, Raja Bell, [Amare] Stoudemire. And Nash, obviously, he's just got that team really going."

While the Suns flow through Nash, much of their success this season has been due to the return of Stoudemire.

The 24-year-old forward averaged 26 points and 8.9 rebounds a game two seasons ago, but last season he was hampered by a pair of knee injuries, and he played in just three games.

Stoudemire came off the bench for the first four games of this year, and Phoenix started 1-3. But he then regained his starting role, and has gradually regained his old form.

Stoudemire is averaging 18.5 points and 9.1 rebounds this season, and he has led the Suns in scoring in each of their last four games. The forward is one of the keys for the transition game of the Suns, who average a league-high 26.9 assists per game.

But the Wizards realize that slowing Stoudemire will not necessarily slow the Suns. They're ready for a high-scoring, back-and-forth tussle.

"You can sense the excitement, and we're looking forward to the challenge--that's what we're gearing up for," Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. "We have to manage the game, not allow them to get runs, and not make a lot of mistakes on our end."

To reach ADAM HIMMELSBACH: 540/374-5442
Email: ahimmelsbach@freelancestar.com




SUNS vs. WIZARDS Verizon Center Tonight, 7 p.m. (CSN)




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