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Sliding Suns

The Phoenix Suns remain arguably the most fun team to watch in the NBA, but just don’t plan on watching Steve Nash and Co. past the April 14 regular-season finale.

Phoenix is 12-16 since the start of December (12-16 ATS), and its only two wins since Jan. 12 are against bad New Jersey and Golden State teams. They have covered in back-to-back games just twice this month. But perhaps the more startling number is Phoenix already has lost three times at home in January– to Memphis, Miami and Chicago, not exactly three road powerhouses. The Suns only had two home losses when the calendar turned to 2010. A 5-7 January includes one win against a winning team (Houston). Overall, Phoenix has feasted on teams that are sub.-500, going 16-3.

Nash is continuing to play at a very high level, but it’s actually a bad thing when he scores too much. He is putting in around 20 points per game since Dec. 1 after averaging only 15.8 ppg during the first 17 games this season when Phoenix was 14-3. The Suns are simply better when Nash is more of a distributor of the ball, not a scorer. And of course they remain lousy on defense and on the road (losers of 11 of their past 12 away from the desert).

And now they will be again without guard Leandro Barbosa. The former NBA Sixth Man of the Year had recently been moved into the starting lineup in an effort to shake things up. But he will have surgery on Tuesday to remove a cyst on his right wrist and miss at least a month.

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Barbosa is averaging 10.9 points per game but shooting a career-low 42 percent from the floor and 33 percent from behind the arc – the wrist has been bothering him all season. Phoenix is cash-strapped and won’t be able to replace Barbosa. When he missed 12 games in December with an ankle injury, the Suns went 4-8. While his numbers are down, he remains a valuable piece of the rotation, specifically when he spells Nash at the point. Now the Suns run the risk of Nash getting worn down.

There also have been reports that the locker room is divided because of rumors of trades involving Amare Stoudemire, who will be a free agent this summer. A trade of Stoudemire could potentially save team owner Robert Sarver another $10 million. The Cavaliers, who took Shaquille O’Neal off Phoenix’s hands this offseason in another salary dump, are reportedly also interested in getting Stoudemire, who is unlikely to re-sign with Phoenix this summer.

Entering play Monday, Phoenix is tied for 7th out West, just a game ahead of No. 8 Houston for the final playoff spot. If the Suns were in the Eastern Conference, the playoffs would be a lock. But out West, even 48 wins might not get it done. So if this team continues to slump, Stoudemire could well be sent packing before the trade deadline and Phoenix will no longer be very relevant on the NBA scene – or a very good bet.

  
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