Trying to Salvage a Split

The disparity between the conferences in the NBA is perhaps greater than it has ever been before, but that hasn't been the case for the Phoenix Suns on their four-game road trip against the weaker East.

The Suns look to salvage a split on the trip in Saturday's finale as they visit the New Jersey Nets in their final game against an Eastern Conference opponent.

Oddsmakers from have made Phoenix -6 point spread favorites (NBA Odds) for today’s game, the over/under has been set at 223 total points (Matchup). Our public betting information shows that 93% of bets for this game have been placed on Phoenix -6 (View NBA Bet Percentages).

Phoenix (48-24) took a seven-game win streak and a 22-4 record against the East into its road trip, but ran into second-place Detroit and first-place Boston in the first two games.

After losing those contests to fall into sixth place in the West, however, the Suns bounced back by beating surging Philadelphia 107-93 on Friday night, thanks in part to a 38-19 first-quarter advantage.

"We let two slip away and we knew (Philadelphia) was a hot team, so thank God we got off to a fast start," said Shaquille O'Neal, who had 15 points and 13 rebounds for his seventh double-double in 19 games with Phoenix.

The Suns' acquisition of O'Neal was a controversial one, but after struggling initially to adapt to the team's run-and-gun offense, the 16-season veteran has grown comfortable in his new role, averaging 15.4 points and 10.6 rebounds while shooting 67.7 percent from the field in his last seven games.

"It's obvious I can't do the same things I could when I was 26 and I'm not going to try and be the first experimental case," O'Neal said Friday. "This team was winning 50, 55 games without me. I don't want to come in and push my way, push my style on them and force us to possibly go down and really take the blame."

Despite O'Neal's resurgence, the Suns remain in sixth place. However, they're just 1 1/2 games behind the top spot in the crowded West standings. Following this contest, all of the Suns' remaining nine games are against Western Conference rivals.

Like Phoenix, New Jersey (31-42) has been reaping the rewards of a blockbuster trade as it tries to improve its playoff standing. After acquiring Devin Harris from Dallas in the deal that sent Jason Kidd to the Mavericks, Harris has averaged 16.6 points and 6.8 assists in 16 games to help the Nets keep pace in the shallow East. They're currently in ninth place - 1 1/2 games behind eighth-place Atlanta.

Harris has been particularly effective lately, averaging 18.8 points and 9.2 assists while shooting 48.2 percent from the field in his last six games. After delivering a career-high 15 assists in a win over Indiana on Wednesday, he had a career-high 27 points against the Pacers on Friday. However, the Nets were outscored 67-52 in the second half of a 123-115 loss.

"We did not do a very good job down the stretch," Nets forward Richard Jefferson said. "They hit a lot of shots. Every game this time of year is big. This was just another team in the hunt. It's going to come down to the very last game of the season."

Harris' strong play has helped the Nets average 109.8 points and shoot 49.2 percent from the field in their last nine games - far better than their season averages of 95.7 points and 44.2 percent.

New Jersey could use the extra offensive output against Phoenix, which leads the league in field-goal percentage (50.0) and ranks second in scoring (109.9).

The last time these teams met in New Jersey, the Suns emerged with a 161-157 double-overtime victory on Dec. 7, 2006, behind Steve Nash's career-high 42 points. The Nets got 31 points and 13-for-17 shooting from Vince Carter and 25 and 11-for-19 shooting from Jefferson as they set a franchise record for points in a game.

By: Marc Young - - Email Us

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