The Phoenix Suns are well-known for their up-tempo, high-scoring offense, but coach Alvin Gentry can see a definite improvement with his team's defensive effort.
The Suns look to sweep the season series against the Los Angeles Clippers for the second straight year Wednesday night when the teams meet at Staples Center.
Phoenix (38-24) leads the league with 109.2 points per game but is among the NBA's worst, giving up an average of 106.0. The Suns, though, are holding teams to 97.4 points and 44.3 percent shooting while winning seven of nine. They limited Northwest Division-leading Denver, which is scoring 107.0 points per game, to 52 in the final three quarters of Monday's 101-85 victory.
"Every time you mention defense and the Suns, people get these sarcastic smiles on their faces," said Gentry, whose team trails Utah by one game for fourth in the Western Conference. "But we are getting better defensively."
Phoenix will look to win its eighth straight, and fourth in a row this season, against the Clippers, who are scoring a conference-low 95.9 points per game.
Los Angeles (25-35) has won four straight at home but those victories have come by an average of 6.0 points. Leading the visiting Jazz by 17 points with less than seven minutes remaining Monday, the Clippers hung on for a 108-104 victory to avoid a third consecutive loss.
"It got a little careless toward the end of the fourth quarter, and we made a lot of turnovers that they converted at the other end," Eric Gordon said after hitting a season high-tying four 3s and scoring 13 of his team-best 24 points in the fourth quarter.
Gordon scored 25 points to lead seven Clippers in double figures in a 125-112 loss in Phoenix on Friday. Looking to win its fourth straight in that matchup, Los Angeles couldn't overcome the loss of center Chris Kaman, who picked up two technical fouls and was ejected 20 seconds into the second half for arguing. Without Kaman, Suns second-year center Robin Lopez had career highs with 30 points and 12 rebounds.
"Chris has to keep his cool, especially being an All-Star center," said Clippers point guard Baron Davis. "He knows we need him."
DeAndre Jordan has provided valuable minutes off the bench in the last eight games -- averaging 5.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks -- but Kaman's presence is even more important for Los Angeles as it tries to limit Amare Stoudemire's touches. The Suns forward posted his second straight double-double Monday with 19 points and 10 rebounds after scoring a season-high 41 in Sunday's three-point loss at San Antonio.
"They didn't get in at all in the second (quarter) but they were the first guys off the bench when they were coming out," Gentry said. "That's what makes this team special, how they pull for each other."
Nash, the league leader with 11.2 assists per game, is averaging 15.3 points and 9.0 assists versus Los Angeles this season. He scored 15 of his 24 in the fourth quarter as the Suns won their third straight visiting the Clippers, 109-107 on Oct. 28.
Los Angeles' last win over Phoenix was 97-90 at home Jan. 15, 2008.