Rockets-Suns Preview

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

four spots.

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

round.

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

28.0 points.

Phoenix also has won six straight home games, but to notch a

seventh it will have to snap Houston’s three-game winning

streak.

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.