Trail Blazers-Suns Preview
By JUSTIN EINHORN
(AP) -- The Phoenix Suns hope a day off to recover mentally and physically - as well as a return home - can kickstart one final push for the playoffs.
The Suns are coming off probably their worst performance of an otherwise solid run since the All-Star break, but their aging veterans could be back near full strength Monday night for a matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Phoenix (31-29) is ninth in the Western Conference and trails Houston by one game for the eighth and final playoff spot. To even be in the postseason chase at this point might not have been expected of a team which had the West's third-worst record two months ago at 12-19.
"Here we are and we are not out of it," said Steve Nash, whose Suns are 17-9 since All-Star weekend. "We have got to drive on it and enjoy it and see what we can do."
Five of Phoenix's final six games are at US Airways Center, but Portland (28-33) is its only remaining opponent which doesn't have a winning record. The Suns have won 10 of 12 at home, where they will remain this week to face West-leading Oklahoma City along with two other teams ahead of them in the conference - the Clippers and Denver.
"There are no guarantees when we are going home to play, but it is a tough schedule," coach Alvin Gentry said. "There are games at home that we expect to win regardless of who we play."
Phoenix closed a four-game road trip with a 105-91 loss in San Antonio on Saturday night, falling behind by 22 after the first quarter and never threatening.
Nash left 5:47 into the game with the Suns trailing 21-4 and did not return. The two-time MVP said he irritated a hip injury Wednesday but played through it Friday in a win at Houston.
"It was a situation where, one, I wasn't going to be effective and two, I didn't want to miss the last six games," he said. "Lucky to get out, I think, when I did."
Grant Hill played less than eight minutes, a night after playing 25 against the Rockets in his return following a nine-game absence for a knee problem.
Both the 39-year-old Hill and 38-year-old Nash hope a day off will help them play a full game Monday, when Phoenix tries to push the Blazers a step closer to mathematical elimination from the playoff chase.
Portland has dropped two straight and four of five, including Monday's 104-103 defeat in Sacramento on a jumper with 3.4 seconds to play.
Wes Matthews had given the Blazers the lead with 5.8 seconds left on his career-high eighth 3-pointer, including seven in the second half. He scored 31 points to lead Portland, which shot 52.3 percent but fell to 8-1 when making at least half of its field-goal attempts.
Defense has been the bigger problem for the Blazers, who have surrendered an average of 104.2 points on 48.9 percent shooting over their last five games.
The Blazers are 3-11 on the road since Feb. 15 and have lost 12 of 14 in Phoenix.
Each team has been blown out on the other's home court in two meetings this season. Nash was 7 for 7 from the field and had 17 points in a 102-77 victory over the Blazers on Jan. 6, then scored five on 2-of-7 shooting three weeks later in a 109-71 defeat at Portland.
Updated April 15, 2012