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Normally, a visit by Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks to the Phoenix Suns feels like a battle for the league’s top dominance.

Thursday’s clash at Footprint Center, however, could be the latest wave in Dallas’ recent poor form not only in Phoenix but also in 2023.

They beat the Houston Rockets in Game 1 of the year, their seventh straight win, but they are 3-8 since then, including back-to-back home losses to the Los Angeles Clippers and Washington Wizards the last two outing.

Head coach Jason Kidd recently called for improvements to his defense, which has slipped this season.

“In this league, if you do that, whether you have Luka or Kareem,” Kidd said after dropping 130 points in last week’s loss to the Atlanta Hawks [Abdul-Jabbar] or lebron [James], you will lose. No matter how many points you score, you will always be short.

“So until we play defense harder and understand what we have to do, we’re going to get 120, but we’re going to give up 130, 140. We might give up 150 one night, but we’re going to be fine because we Scored a goal, so it looked good. “

The Suns, though, are recovering from their own poor run.

Last year’s runaway Western Conference champions won 15 of their first 21 games this season but only six of their next 24.

Still, a rebound of four wins since then has fueled hopes of a Phoenix revival as they look to capitalize on a vulnerable Mavericks team.

After an impressive 128-97 win over the Charlotte Hornets, Cameron Johnson said: “That’s life — you weather the storm. Things don’t always go your way. We’ve had a lot of fun over the last few years. Found this. It’s not true” It’s not like you curl your tail, run away, sell the farm, and hide forever.

“We have a lot of confidence in our team. From top to bottom.”

Monty Williams’ men will look to inspire that confidence when they welcome the Mavericks to Arizona.

key performer

Phoenix Suns – Chris Paul

The veteran Paul played an absolute centerpiece in the recent 112-110 win over the Memphis Grizzlies, scoring 22 points and dishing out 11 assists, adding another 11 against the Hornets.

With Devin Booker out, Phoenix has had to share a fortune in scoring, and Paul has been key in helping others find those.

If Deandre Ayton (illness) is out again, it will likely come down to the 37-year-old stepping up again.

Dallas Mavericks – Luka Doncic

The Suns rank 20th in the league in scoring this season, but the Mavericks rank lower. It seems crazy when you consider they have one of the best players in the league, and he’s had another productive season.

Judging from 44 games, Doncic averaged 33.8 points per game, ranking first in the league, with 9.1 rebounds and 8.6 assists.

The Slovenian needed help from his teammates in Phoenix, and a lot more than he got against the Wizards when his 41 points weren’t enough to win.

Big game — can the Mavericks defense finally thrive without the Suns being an obvious threat?

As mentioned, the Mavericks have struggled to stop opponents from scoring this season, going from the second-best defense in the regular season last year to the twelfth-best defense so far this year.

One factor they can rely on here, though, is that the Suns don’t have Booker, and thus don’t have anyone averaging more than 17.5 points per game (Ayton).

head to head

The Suns had won 10 straight games before Dallas beat Phoenix 130-111 in early December, and they were 9-1 in their last 10 home games against the Mavericks.