Knicks-Suns Preview

Eric Bledsoe has given the Phoenix Suns’ playoff hopes a major boost.

His absence hurt Phoenix the last time it saw the New York Knicks.

These teams are battling to reach the postseason, and the Suns will seek to win six straight for the first time in almost four years Friday night as they try to end a three-game slide against the visiting Knicks.

Bledsoe missed 33 games after knee surgery before returning Feb. 12. He averaged 12.6 points on 37.0 percent shooting in his first five games back before finding the range to shoot 46.8 percent and average 21.8 points in his last four.

”We were missing him those two months,” backcourt mate Goran Dragic said. ”Now he’s back and he looks good. It’s much easier for me to play with him. He can handle the ball, I can handle the ball.”

The Suns (43-29) have won seven of eight and are on the verge of winning six in a row for the first time since a 10-game run March 14-April 2, 2010. Bledsoe had 23 points, seven assists and six rebounds, and Dragic wound up with 25 points, seven boards and six assists in Wednesday’s 99-93 win at Washington.

Bledsoe wasn’t available when Phoenix fell 98-96 in overtime at New York on Jan. 13. The Suns did not record a field goal in the extra session, as the Knicks (30-42) prevailed behind 29 points and 16 rebounds from Carmelo Anthony.

While Phoenix is in a crowded race for one of the final spots in the Western Conference, New York is 1 1/2 games behind Atlanta for the eighth seed in the mediocre East.

”I’ve been to (the playoffs) the last four or five years now, and to be home watching it on TV is not going to be any fun,” embattled Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. ”So I’m desperately pushing these guys to try and get ’em in there, because then a new season starts and anything is possible.”

The Knicks avoided a third straight loss Wednesday with a 107-99 victory in Sacramento. Anthony scored 36 and J.R. Smith made nine 3-pointers to fall one shy of the NBA season high.

New York blew a 17-point lead in Sunday’s 106-100 home defeat to Cleveland that ended a season-best, eight-game win streak, then let an early eight-point lead evaporate in Tuesday’s 127-96 road loss to the Los Angeles Lakers – who scored 51 points in the third quarter.

"As of late, man, it hasn’t been the way we’re starting basketball games," Anthony said. "We’ve been coming out of the gate building big leads and it comes down to that second quarter, that third quarter where we’ve just kind of given them the momentum, confidence, to come back and make shots to feel good about themselves."

Anthony twisted his ankle Wednesday but said he’ll be OK.

Friday’s game marks the second time that former Suns star Amare Stoudemire will play in Phoenix as a visitor. He scored 23 in a 121-96 rout Jan. 7, 2011, in his first season with New York.

Smith hit a jumper at the buzzer in a 99-97 victory in last season’s visit Dec. 26, 2012.

New York was also without an injured Anthony for that contest, and he’s lost 12 straight games at Phoenix since he last won there as a rookie April 7, 2004.