The Phoenix Suns didn’t exactly look playoff-ready their last
time out, stumbling in the second half of a loss that could hurt
their seeding in the crowded Western Conference.
Coach Alvin Gentry is hoping his team can summon some postseason
intensity before the regular season ends.
The Suns will face their final non-playoff opponent Sunday as
they try to complete a season sweep of the Houston Rockets, and a
home victory is vital for Phoenix as it jockeys for one of the top
After their 10-game winning streak was snapped at Milwaukee last
Saturday, the Suns lost for the second time in three games Friday
night at Oklahoma City, turning in a lackluster offensive
performance in the 96-91 defeat.
The Thunder held Phoenix to 12 points in the third quarter, the
fewest in any period all season for the NBA’s highest-scoring team,
which averages 110.1 points.
“We just didn’t seem to have the emotion,” point guard Steve
Nash said. “… We’re going to keep fighting. We have three games
left and we’re going to try to win all three.”
If the Suns (51-28) do that, they could finish as high as second
in the West, but they’ll certainly hope to jump from their current
fifth-place position and earn home-court advantage in the first
They trail Dallas, Denver and Utah by slim margins, and face the
Nuggets and Jazz this week to close the regular season.
“We have to understand that every game now is going to be a
playoff game,” Gentry said. “We play three more games and I
guarantee you that Houston, Denver and Utah are going to play at a
really high level intensity-wise. We’re going to have to go out
there, match that and realize that’s the way it’s going to be.”
Gentry would likely take a carbon copy of Phoenix’s first three
games against the Rockets. The Suns scored more than 110 points
each time, winning all of them, with Amare Stoudemire averaging
Phoenix also has won six straight home games, but to notch a
seventh it will have to snap Houston’s three-game winning
The Rockets (41-38) have been eliminated from postseason
contention, missing out on a fourth consecutive berth, but they’re
hoping to finish with a winning record despite playing the season
with a revamped roster and without star center Yao Ming.
Their last two wins came against playoff-bound teams Utah and
Charlotte, with Aaron Brooks’ 23 points sparking a 97-90 win over
the Bobcats on Friday night.
“We don’t have any quitters on our team,” forward Trevor Ariza
said. “We’ve got guys who, no matter what the situation is, we’re
going to come out and play hard. We don’t want to embarrass
ourselves. We’ve got a lot of pride.”
A pair of Rockets rookies may be especially excited for Sunday’s
game. Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill both played collegiately at
Arizona, and each player has made good contributions lately.
Budinger had 12 points against Charlotte and is averaging 14.6
in his last seven games. Despite battling an ankle injury, Hill has
scored in double figures seven times since the Rockets acquired him
from New York on Feb. 18.