Pacers-Suns Preview

Locked in a hotly contested Western Conference playoff race, the

Phoenix Suns would love to take advantage of a lengthy homestand,

but they didn’t get that season-high, seven-game stretch off to a

strong start.

A matchup with the struggling Indiana Pacers would seem to give

the Suns a prime opportunity to bounce back, but they’ve had

trouble containing the Pacers in recent meetings.

Phoenix will try to avoid a third straight loss to Indiana and

earn its 14th win in 18 games overall Saturday night.

The Suns (39-25) are in a dense cluster of seven teams within 5

1/2 games of one another in the West and will face two of those

clubs, Utah and Portland, to conclude its seven-game homestand.

That homestand got off to an inauspicious start Thursday night,

when the Suns lost to the Jazz 116-108 to fall 1 1/2 games behind

them in the conference. Phoenix led by 11 points entering the

fourth quarter but seemed to run out of steam in its fourth game in

five nights, getting outscored 41-22 over the final 12 minutes.

“I don’t know if fatigue set in,” said forward Amare

Stoudemire, who scored a game-high 30 points. “We played well most

of the night. We just didn’t play well defensively down the

stretch. We just have to key in defensively in the fourth quarter

to get some stops.”

It was a rare defensive lapse of late for the Suns, who have

held opponents to 99.1 points per game while winning seven of nine.

On the season, Phoenix has allowed 106.1 points per game.

The Suns’ defense figures to get tested by the Pacers, who have

averaged 115.4 points in their last five games in the series,

including 117.5 in back-to-back wins.

The Suns, though, still have the league’s most productive

offense, and it has continued to produce by topping 100 points in

eight straight games. Stoudemire, who leads the team with 22.0

points per game, has averaged 30.0 on 58.4 percent shooting over

the past four contests.

Stoudemire had a team-best 21 on Jan. 13 at Indiana, but the

Suns were outscored 70-46 in the second half of a 122-114 loss.

Danny Granger led the Pacers with 33 points, and Mike Dunleavy

added a season-high 30.

If recent history is any indication, Stoudemire and Granger

should play pivotal roles Saturday. Stoudemire’s 24.3-point average

against Indiana is his highest versus any opponent in his career,

and he’s scored 32.0 points per game in the last seven matchups,

including a 49-point outburst last season at Conseco

Fieldhouse.

Granger has averaged 28.8 points in the last four meetings and

scored 37 in last season’s 113-110 win in Phoenix.

Granger also had a team-leading 32 points Friday night, but he

couldn’t help the Pacers (20-42) avoid their 17th loss in 23 games.

The 122-114 defeat in Denver was Indiana’s third straight on a

four-game western road trip.

Indiana, which clinched its fourth straight losing season with

Friday’s defeat, has lost five in a row on the road, where it’s

7-26 this season.

While they won in their previous trip to Phoenix, the Pacers are

3-10 there since the beginning of the 1995-96 season.