Suns-Mavericks Preview

The Phoenix Suns’ fast start has cooled considerably since the

beginning of December, largely because their run-and-gun offense

has begun to shown signs of slowing down.

That lull, however, has been nothing compared with what the

Dallas Mavericks have experienced in their past two games.

The scoring-starved Mavericks look to avoid losing a third

straight game for the first time in nearly 11 months Tuesday night

when they host the Suns, whose road-heavy schedule seems to finally

be taking its toll.

Dallas scored 104.1 points per game during its 14-5 start, not

quite up to Phoenix’s 110.2-point average during that same span but

enough to give it an early lead in the highly competitive Southwest

Division.

The Mavericks (14-7), though, have seen their accuracy fade in

their past two games. Dallas shot a season-low 35.2 percent in a

98-82 loss at Memphis on Friday, and connected on 37.3 percent of

its season-low 67 shots a night later in an 80-75 home loss to

Atlanta.

“We might be in a little bit of a funk right now,” forward Shawn

Marion told the NBA’s official Web site. “The ball wasn’t going in

for us like there was a little bit of a lid on there for us. … We

didn’t capitalize on anything.”

Dallas hasn’t lost three straight since a four-game skid from

Jan. 9-14.

Dirk Nowitzki scored 32 points Saturday after being held to 16

in Memphis, but the Mavericks’ biggest offensive issue is finding

more help beyond the former MVP and guard Jason Terry, who averaged

17.9 points off the bench before making his starting debut

Saturday.

Josh Howard’s eventual return from ankle surgery should solve

that, but until he does Dallas is stuck with rookie Rodrigue

Beaubois, J.J. Barea or Terry starting alongside Jason Kidd in the

backcourt.

Marion, who spent the first eight-and-a-half years of his career

in Phoenix, isn’t adding much offensive punch in the frontcourt,

either. The four-time All-Star is averaging 11.9 points – 6.0

during the two-game skid – and hasn’t scored more than 15 since

Nov. 7.

Phoenix (15-6), meanwhile, has dropped three of four since its

14-3 start, and its Steve Nash-led offensive attack has set a new

season-low for points in each loss.

The Suns were held to 99 and 90 in blowout losses at New York

and Cleveland, respectively, and didn’t improve Sunday against the

Pacific Division rival Los Angeles Lakers. A 10-point halftime lead

grew to 21 by the end of the third quarter, and the Lakers went on

to win 108-88.

“We’ve got some ground to make up,” said Nash, who’s averaging a

career high-tying 3.8 turnovers. “We’ve done well, but we’ve got a

lot of work to do before we’re in they’re class, so it’s OK.”

Phoenix dropped to 8-6 on the road compared to 7-0 at home.

Nash is second on the team in scoring (17.0 points per game)

behind Amare Stoudemire (19.0), but Phoenix is better off when the

two-time MVP is distributing. The Suns are 9-0 when Nash has 11 or

more assists and 6-6 when he doesn’t.

Similarly, they’re 9-0 when Jason Richardson scores above his

16.4-point average.

Both teams figure to break out of their offensive funks

considering their four meetings last season featured an average of

233.0 points. Nowitzki scored 30.0 points per game in leading

Dallas to three wins while Nash averaged 16.0 points and 10.8

assists against his former club.

Suns guard Leandro Barbosa, who averaged 20.7 points in the

final three meetings, hasn’t played since Nov. 29 and could be out

until Christmas with a sprained left ankle.