PHOENIX -- This time, Phoenix Suns coach Alvin Gentry was working on his best deadpan, post-game face.
His post-game faces have been fairly pleasant lately. A coach really can dig deep into the repertoire of positive emotion when his team is rolling. But Sunday night's choice was accompanied by counterfeit, one-word sarcasm.
"Thanks," he said after being reminded of what lies ahead during this week's four-game road trip. More on that soon enough.
Gentry appeared to be in these good-but-pragmatic spirits after a 99-86 triumph over the Houston Rockets at U.S. Airways Center. This one provided further evidence that Phoenix really has demonstrated the unofficial time to rise was immediately after the All-Star break.
For the record, they Suns now are 12 game back of the Rockets for the coveted eighth playoff seed in the mighty Western Conference. It registers as the Suns' ninth victory in 11 games in the aforementioned span. Our roll call of milestones includes their first bump above .500 (23-22) since March 25, 2011, and the Suns' first four-game winning streak of the season.
And now the real party begins.
Starting Tuesday in Miami, the Suns will take on three of the Eastern Conference's top four teams in a four-day span. Before returning home from visits to Orlando and Indiana, they'll also have a date with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
"Oh, it's a tough trip," Gentry said after retiring the deadpan. "It doesn't really matter, because every game you play is going to be tough."
Just not as tough as taking on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade on the road one night before calling on Dwight Howard and his playmates.
"It's going to be a huge challenge for us," Gentry said.
OK, that's more like it.
What Alvin will be escorting to Florida is a team that has flipped a script preciously requiring them to find multiple ways to lose. Now they're incorporating disparate storylines of victory into this save-the-season rally.
Against Houston, Robin Lopez rose from the Phoenix bench to contribute as many points (8) as the combined scoring efforts of recent hero Jared Dudley and Steve Nash. Shannon Brown, who knocked in 21 points in last Thursday's comeback win over the Clippers in Los Angeles, didn't score any of his 5 points against the Rockets until teammate Michael Redd had pumped in a game-high 25.
"Obviously, we got a huge boost from Michael Redd," Gentry said. "That was vintage Michael Redd ... he gets on a roll and he gets really difficult to guard."
Let's not forget Channing Frye (19 points, 8 rebounds), who continued his strong bid to discover "beast mode" after inspiring more than a few Suns fans into dismissing him as being stuck in "bust mode."
By the way, the Suns -- who had been in the habit of winning after falling behind by double digits -- gave up Sunday's first four points, took the lead and sort of rolled to the finish line. Their chances for survival were enhanced when Goran Dragic -- Nash's back up at point guard until the trading deadline last season -- left the floor early in the first quarter. Dragic, it should be noted, has been playing well in a starting role because Houston playmaker Kyle Lowry has been out with a bacterial infection.
Goran found himself out of Sunday's game about 12 total minutes due to a frequent-fouling infection. He picked up his second by the 9:19 mark of the first period and was replaced at point guard by starting two guard Courtney Lee. Lee was replacing usual starting two guard (and leading scorer) Kevin Martin (injured shoulder).
So, with Lee and Dragic starting, a Houston bench that had outscored the Suns' reserves, 107-48, in two Rocket wins this season, was severely diminished. The Rockets also were missing third-team point guard Jonny Flynn, who was part of a salary-match package the franchise used to acquire Marcus Camby from the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Rockets also bought out the contract of Derek Fisher, who was part of a deal with the Lakers that sent rotational forward Jordan Hill to L.A.
Anyway, with Lee forced to run the offense for a spell, the Rockets went from a 6-6 tie when Dragic left to a 20-6 hole when he returned late in the opening quarter.
With a less formidable crew to deal with, the Phoenix bench boosted the advantage to as high as 21 points in the second quarter. The Suns subs, who assisted the playoff-seeking surge by helping take down the Clippers with Nash and Grant Hill in street clothes, must be steady this week for their team to maintain contact in the seeding chase.
Despite injury and assorted attrition, the other challengers won't go away easily.
The Utah Jazz, for example, knocked off the Lakers in L.A. on Sunday night and are even with the Suns at 23-22. Their week includes a home game with the Oklahoma City Thunder, a trip to Sacramento, a homer with the Denver Nuggets and a visit to Atlanta.
The Rockets return to Houston for a four-game stand that brings in the Lakers, Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks and Sacramento Kings. The Minnesota Timberwolves, who fell to 22-24 with Sunday's lost to the Kings, go to Oakland, San Antonio and Oklahoma City before taking on the Nuggets in Minneapolis.
Fortunately for the Suns, the recent string of victories puts them in position to massage their own destiny by winning.
"You can take care of business on your own," Gentry said.
But this week's business could get pretty tricky.