The Nets (40-20) reached 40 wins in a season faster than ever before in their NBA history, but if there is one win that stands out above all others, it is the 128-124 comeback from a 24-point second-quarter deficit against the Suns on Feb. 16 in Phoenix in the middle of a perfect 5-0 West Coast road trip.
Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving both sat that one out with injuries, and James Harden led a total team effort that included a 40-point fourth quarter. The rematch against the Suns (42-17), who are second in the Western Conference, is Sunday afternoon at Barclays Center, and some might even suggest it could be an NBA Finals preview between the league’s top two shooting teams (No. 1 Nets 49.3% and No. 2 Suns 48.7%).
This time, Harden (strained right hamstring) will sit out, but Durant is probable to return after missing the past three games. The Suns are coming in with a healthy roster that features an All-Star backcourt led by Chris Paul and Devin Booker.
Of course, Nets coach Steve Nash was a two-time MVP during his time with the Suns, so there is an extra layer to the rivalry. "The Suns are as good as anybody in the league this year," Nash said following a hard-fought home win over the Celtics Friday night. "They’ve been unbelievable, so we have a challenge.
"We’re again going to be undermanned. We’re going to have to step up and play together and fight and have that winning spirit. We’ve got our hands full on Sunday against a team that has had two days off. For us, to run it back on Sunday against a really top team is going to be a great challenge."
Irving is coming off a miserable 4-for-19 shooting effort against the Celtics, but he fell just short of a triple-double with 15 points, nine rebounds and 11 assists plus a team-high four steals. His matchup at point guard against Paul will be a key.
Describing the Suns’ climb in the West after adding Paul (16.0 points, 8.8 assists), Irving said, "I think they’ve been able to mesh very quickly. We’ve known that Devin Booker is one of the best young players in our game today . . . When you get a leader in Chris Paul that has had success in the regular season and in the playoffs, they have a chance to do something special in that Western Conference going against some top-notch teams. I give them credit. It’s been a lot of fun basketball to watch."