The Phoenix Suns are trying to avoid any hiccups against upset-minded foes as they try to secure the top seed in the Western Conference.
The Suns narrowly escaped Oklahoma City with a 123-120 win on Sunday — their fourth consecutive victory.
Phoenix (46-18) will take on another team out of contention on the road Tuesday night, visiting the Cleveland Cavaliers (21-43), who have lost six consecutive games.
After facing Cleveland, the Suns close the regular season with a stretch against seven teams in position for the playoffs (top six each conference) or the play-in round (top 10). Six of Phoenix’s final eight games are on the road.
The Suns entered Monday’s games tied with the Utah Jazz at the top of the Western Conference.
“At this point in the season, you’re trying to pile up wins,” Suns guard Chris Paul said. “It wasn’t our prettiest game; it wasn’t the prettiest finish. We got the win and we’re going to move on.”
Paul continued to show what a valuable acquisition he has been for Phoenix, finishing with 18 points and 11 assists against his former team.
Devin Booker, the Suns’ leading scorer with 25.6 points per game, had 32 points.
But Suns coach Monty Williams wasn’t happy with his team’s play down the stretch as Oklahoma City closed the game on a 17-4 run.
“It certainly wasn’t the way we wanted to close out the game,” Williams said. “We could have executed a lot better down the stretch.”
The Cavaliers entered Monday’s games on the brink of elimination and would miss the playoffs for the third consecutive season since LeBron James departed to Los Angeles.
“Living in the moment of being the underdog, that’s when it’s the most fun,” Cleveland coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “You can play freely, just scrap and leave it all on the floor.”
Collin Sexton had 25 points and eight assists in a 124-107 loss at home to the surging Miami Heat on Saturday, and Cedi Osman had 15 points, a career-high 11 assists and seven rebounds.
Kevin Love bounced back after a subpar game against Washington to score a season-high 25 points and shot 9-for-14, including 7-of-10 from 3-point range.
Love called Friday’s performance – when he didn’t score in 22 minutes of a 122-93 home loss to the Washington Wizards — “an absolute anomaly, so I wanted to come out and be super-aggressive.”
The Cavaliers were without Darius Garland (sprained left ankle), Lamar Stevens (concussion) and Isaiah Hartenstein (concussion) against Miami. Matthew Dellavedova (neck), Taurean Prince (left ankle surgery), Larry Nance Jr. (fractured right thumb) and Dylan Windler (left knee surgery) are expected to miss the remainder of the season.
Phoenix’s Jae Crowder (right ankle sprain) and Cameron Payne (left knee bruise) were out against Oklahoma City, and Abdel Nader (arthroscopic knee surgery) is out indefinitely.
The Suns won the first matchup of the season between the teams. Booker scored a game-high 36 points as Phoenix beat visiting Cleveland 119-113 on Feb. 8.