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Since returning to Phoenix four seasons ago, Steve Nash has helped transform the Suns into one of the best clubs in the league. The two-time league MVP has brought energy and leadership, but Phoenix is still eagerly awaiting the franchise's first NBA title.

The Suns are once again considered a top championship contender, though, and they'll take their first step toward that goal when they visit the Seattle SuperSonics on Thursday.

Oddsmakers from Bodog.com have made Phoenix -10.5 point spread favorites (NBA Odds) for todays game, the over/under has been set at 223 total points (Matchup). Our public betting information shows that 90% of bets for this game have been placed on Phoenix -10.5 (View NBA Bet Percentages).

Phoenix averaged a league-high 110.2 points last season to finish 61-21 and win its third straight Pacific Division title. After losing in the Western Conference finals in 2005 and '06, defending champion San Antonio needed six games to knock the Suns out in the semifinals last season.

The elimination left Phoenix feeling especially bitter. Nash was forced to miss the crucial final moments of Game 1 because of a cut that wouldn't stop bleeding, and leading scorer Amare Stoudemire was suspended for Game 5 after leaving the bench when Nash was slammed into the scorer's table earlier in the series. The Suns lost both of those games.

Phoenix is opening 2007-08 with all of its starters healthy for the first time since 2004, and has added veteran Grant Hill, who signed as a free agent for a relatively paltry $1.83 million because he wanted to play for a contender.

"This is a machine,'' said Hill, who averaged 14.4 points for Orlando last season. "This team and players and what they've done over the last few years. You don't want to come in and mess it up.''

Nash was a first-team All-NBA selection in 2006-07, while averaging 18.6 points and a league-high 11.6 assists. After winning consecutive MVP awards in 2005 and '06, he finished second to Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki.

Stoudemire recovered from two knee surgeries to play in all 82 regular-season games, and averaged 20.4 points and 9.6 rebounds to join Nash on the All-NBA first-team. Stoudemire, though, believes this edition of the Suns will be even tougher to stop.

"With the experience that we had over the past years, and the players that we have, and the understanding of the game now, I think we're definitely a lot better,'' he said. "We're looking forward to winning the title this year.''

Shawn Marion, who was third-team All-NBA last season, and Raja Bell, who was a first-team all-defensive team choice, round out the Suns' starting five.

"We'll see how it all works out because you never know,'' coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We've been pretty good the last couple of years, but I think we're potentially as good or better than ever.''

Phoenix won two of three meetings with the SuperSonics last season. The Suns lost the only game in Seattle last Feb. 14, 114-90, but Nash missed that contest with right shoulder inflammation. Phoenix went 2-4 without Nash last year.

Nash had 38 points and 20 assists in two games against the Sonics in 2006-07, and is averaging 18.3 points and 11 assists in his last nine games against them.

The Kevin Durant era in Seattle began with a loss Wednesday night, as the Sonics fell at Denver 120-103 in their season opener.

The second overall pick in the draft scored 18 points in 31 minutes, but shot just 7-of-22 from the field in his NBA debut.

"I'm always hard on myself even if I played well,'' he said. "My team did a great job of getting me some open shots. I need to knock them down. I had a lot of open shots I should have knocked down.''

Durant, who was taken by the Sonics with the No. 2 pick in the draft last June, showed no effects of the ankle sprain he suffered on Oct. 23.

"I thought he played all right for a 19-year-old kid playing his first game,'' Seattle coach P.J. Carlesimo said. "It ain't about how individuals play. It's how our team played. We got beat.''

Damien Wilkins, who averaged 8.8 points last season, scored a team-high 21 while shooting 4-of-6 from 3-point range against the Nuggets.

The Sonics will be looking for more offense from Durant and Wilkins after trading away their top two scorers from a year ago - Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis - who combined to average 48.8 points.

Seattle, which has lost its last two home openers, is trying to avoid starting 0-2 for the second straight season.

By: Marc Young - theSpread.com - Email Us

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