Trying to make a charge up the Western Conference standings, the Phoenix Suns have been playing tough defense against teams from the East over the last month. That could be troublesome for the Indiana Pacers, who are looking to bounce back from their worst shooting effort in more than a month.
The Suns go for their third straight win overall and a season-best fourth consecutive road victory Sunday at Conseco Fieldhouse.
In 10th place in the West, Phoenix (29-27) is looking to make a strong push over the final six-plus weeks of the season to earn a second consecutive postseason berth. The Suns, winners of nine of 12, opened a critical six-game trip Friday with a 110-92 victory over Toronto.
With Vince Carter scoring 11 of his 17 points in the opening quarter, Phoenix ran out to a 35-14 lead.
"We just had to try to take the fight out of them early and often," Carter said.
Beginning with an 88-71 victory over Boston on Jan. 28 - a game that included two skirmishes as Phoenix allowed its fewest points since 2003 - the Suns have won four straight against East foes while holding those teams to an average of 84.3 points on 40.6 percent shooting.
Overall, Phoenix yields 105.1 points per game on 47.1 percent from the field.
The Suns' defense was outstanding in a 105-97 home win over Indiana (26-31) on Dec. 3, recording 14 steals and forcing 25 turnovers.
Phoenix will try to deliver that kind of pressure again as the Pacers attempt to shake off Friday's 95-84 loss to Utah. After averaging 107.3 points and shooting 46.3 percent while winning nine of its first 12 under interim coach Frank Vogel, Indiana posted season lows with two 3-pointers and 10 assists while hitting 34.8 percent from the field.
It was the Pacers' worst shooting performance since making 32.6 percent in a 99-86 loss to Chicago on Jan. 14.
"We couldn't make shots," said Danny Granger, one of the exceptions by hitting 7 of 14 for 17 points. "... We got kicked on the boards (56-46), so our overall rating for the game would be a total F."
Indiana, one-half game ahead of Charlotte for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East, continues its four-game homestand against a Suns team trying to win four straight on the road for the first time since a six-game run March 3-April 2.
Phoenix was denied a fifth straight victory at Indiana in its last visit, a 122-114 defeat on Jan. 13, 2010. Granger scored a team-high 33 points in that game, helping the Pacers rally from 24 down.
Steve Nash, who scored 20 points with nine assists in that matchup despite being out more than a quarter with a busted lip, leads the Suns with 16.6 points per game, but the two-time MVP's ability to find teammates - he is second in the league with 11.3 assists per game - could cause even more problems for Indiana.
Nash was 2 of 12 from the field for seven points Friday, but he also finished with 11 assists and seven rebounds.
"You can see how he can have total control over a game without being a scorer," coach Alvin Gentry said.
Nash had 12 points, 11 assists and five boards in the Dec. 3 victory. Channing Frye led the Suns with five 3s and 29 points in that contest.
Point guard Aaron Brooks is expected to make his debut for Phoenix after he was acquired from Houston for Goran Dragic and a draft pick on Thursday.