The Boston Celtics got the momentum they desired ahead of a challenging five-game Western Conference road trip. Kicking that off against one of the league's worst teams gives them a strong chance to keep it going.
With a stretch of three games against likely playoff teams looming, the Celtics will try to capitalize on a meeting with the Phoenix Suns on Saturday night.
Boston (42-30) has followed a four-game slide with three straight wins after beating Atlantic Division-leading Toronto 91-79 on Wednesday.
"It's big," said guard Isaiah Thomas, who is averaging 25.7 points during the win streak. "We wanted some confidence and momentum going into this tough West Coast trip and we got it. We wanted these three games and we got them."
The Celtics enter the trip tied with Miami for fourth in the East, one-half game behind Southeast Division-leading Atlanta.
While reaching the playoffs for a second straight season seems to be a formality, Boston has already secured a winning record for the first time in three seasons under coach Brad Stevens.
"I feel like there's real progress. And it's pretty consistent progress," Stevens said. "But ... you don't sign up to come to the Boston Celtics to win 42 games. So we've got a long way to go."
The trip poses some potentially valuable tests for the Celtics. After facing the Suns, they'll meet the Los Angeles Clippers and Portland - two teams likely headed for the playoffs - before visiting league-leading Golden State, which is 34-0 at home.
"I don't really look at it as the next chunk of the schedule," Stevens told the team's official website. "I just look at it as now we go to Phoenix and play a game."
Boston won 115-110 in its most recent visit to the desert Feb. 23, 2015, and beat the Suns 117-103 at home Jan. 15 with Marcus Smart registering 10 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists for his only triple-double.
Thomas has totaled 40 points on 11-of-27 shooting with 12 assists in his first two games against the Suns since Phoenix dealt him to Boston on Feb. 19, 2015.
The Celtics have made 47.5 percent from 3-point range in those two meetings, and they lead the East with 105.8 points per game.
That bodes well matching up against a Phoenix team that ranks near the bottom of the league in scoring defense (107.7).
The Suns (20-52) have lost six of their last nine games and are giving up 114.8 in those defeats after falling 116-94 at Sacramento on Friday.
Devin Booker had 26 points, but also committed a season-high nine turnovers.
"Personally, it was one of the worst games I've had this year," the rookie guard said. "It was evident with all the turnovers I had. I feel like that's why we started off so bad. But I'll take this one. That's what's good about the NBA. We play again tomorrow night."
Booker is averaging 22.8 points over the last 10 games, a major increase from his 12.9 season mark. He only had nine points while missing 7 of 9 from the field at Boston.
Mirza Teletovic led Phoenix with 22 points off the bench in that matchup, but he's been limited to 9.2 on 34.8 percent shooting over the last five.