Phoenix (51-17) at Orlando (32-36)

Partly Cloudy Currently: Orlando, FL
Temp: 75° F
  • Game info: 7:00 pm EST Sat Mar 26, 2005
Preview | Box Score | Recap

The Orlando Magic hope Steve Francis will give their fading playoff hopes a boost when they host one of the league’s best teams, the Phoenix Suns.

Francis will be returning after serving a three-game league suspension for kicking a courtside photographer during Orlando’s 98-90 loss in Seattle on March 18.

The 6-foot-3 point guard is averaging team highs of 21.4 points and 6.9 assists for the Magic, who have lost nine of their last 10 to drop into ninth place in the Eastern Conference. Orlando trails Philadelphia by two games for the final playoff spot with 14 left.

Grant Hill scored 28 points and rookie Dwight Howard had 14 and 15 rebounds on Thursday as the Magic opened a five-game homestand with a 108-94 loss to expansion Charlotte.

Jameer Nelson had his first career double-double with 18 points and 13 assists for Orlando, which lost its third straight at the TD Waterhouse Centre.

“We need some leadership both from the coaching staff and our veterans to say ‘Hey, listen, we still have a lot of games left,”’ said Orlando interim coach Chris Jent, who fell to 1-3 since taking over for Johnny Davis on March 17. “People are writing us off, but stranger things have happened. We have to not feel sorry for ourselves but go out there and play a game we love.”

Jent hopes Francis can spark the Magic against the high-scoring, fast-paced Suns.

“We hope that we can feed off of Steve’s energy,” Jent said. “He’ll be fresh and ready to go and hopefully he can be that extra boost that we need.”

Phoenix had its nine-game road winning streak snapped with a 125-115 loss at Miami on Friday. Quentin Richardson led Phoenix with 26 points, Amare Stoudemire added 25 and Steve Nash had 19 and 14 assists as the Suns lost for just the third time in their last 11 games.

“We didn’t get enough stops,” Phoenix coach Mike D’Antoni said. “I thought we scored enough probably to be in the game but we didn’t stop.”

Phoenix entered the game leading the league in scoring with 110.3 points per game, and was second in the league from the floor, shooting 47.9 percent. However, the Suns wilted early against the Heat, missing 10 of their first 11 shots.

Phoenix, which is a league-best 28-8 on the road this season, leads the all-time series with Orlando 20-11, including a 9-6 mark on the road.

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