Dallas (47-29) at Phoenix (51-25)

Partly Cloudy Currently: Phoenix, AZ
Temp: 66° F
  • Game info: 3:30 pm EDT Sun Apr 6, 2008
  • TV: ABC
Preview | Box Score | Recap

When the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks last met, Shaquille O’Neal had yet to suit up for the Suns and Jason Kidd-to-Dallas was nothing more than a rumor.

Now, those future Hall of Famers are looked at as the keys to their new teams’ playoff hopes.

The Suns and Mavericks both made bold moves in February to improve their odds of contending in the powerful Western Conference, and on Sunday in Phoenix they’ll get their first chance to see the other’s big acquisition up close.

O’Neal was on the Suns’ bench when Phoenix (51-25) beat the Mavericks on Feb. 14. It was the 11th and final game O’Neal missed due to a sore hip between the end of his tenure with the Miami Heat and the start of his time with the Suns.

The early returns weren’t great - Phoenix lost six of its first nine games with O’Neal in the lineup. But the Suns have won 11 of 14 since, and O’Neal has started to look like his old, dominant self. He averaged 16.7 points and 10.7 rebounds in a seven-game stretch between March 22-April 1.

O’Neal scored five points on Friday, but played only 22 minutes as Phoenix blew out Minnesota 117-88 for its fourth win in five games. It is within one game of the Los Angeles Lakers for the Pacific Division lead.

“He’s playing well right now for them,” Timberwolves coach Randy Wittman said after getting his first look at O’Neal as a Sun. “His line doesn’t show what he does in clogging the paint defensively. They’re better defensively, no question about it.”

On offense, O’Neal has helped open things up for Amare Stoudemire, who’s averaging 31.0 points and 9.9 rebounds in his last eight games.

Dallas (47-29), like Phoenix, didn’t feel it was good enough to contend in the ultra-competitive West. So it brought in Kidd, who spent the first two-plus seasons of his career with the Mavericks.

Kidd struggled early on, and went through a nine-game stretch where he averaged only 5.3 points and reached double-digit assists just twice. But Kidd has turned things around over the last five games, averaging 14.8 points and 11.6 assists.

He had 10 points, eight assists and seven rebounds Friday, but the Mavericks came up short against the Lakers, blowing a seven-point fourth quarter lead en route to a 112-108 loss.

Dallas is in a three-way battle with Denver and Golden State for the final two playoff spots in the West.

“We can’t worry about 7, 8, and 9,” said Kidd, who spent parts of five seasons in Phoenix. “We can’t worry or scoreboard watch … because we have to go out there and win ballgames. If we do that, we’ll be in the playoffs.”

The Mavericks got another big addition to their lineup earlier this week - the return of Dirk Nowitzki. The reigning league MVP suffered a high ankle sprain after a nasty fall on March 23, but missed just four games before returning in a win against Golden State on Wednesday.

He struggled shooting in his first game back, scoring 18 points on just 6-of-15 shooting, but was sharp on Friday, putting up 27 on 13-of-19 from the field.

Nowitzki has averaged 33.5 points and 10.5 rebounds as the Mavericks and Suns have split two games this season.

Former Maverick Steve Nash has had his way with the Dallas defense since signing with Phoenix as a free agent in 2004. He’s averaging 21.8 points and 12.3 assists against the Mavericks, including 22.5 points and 15.5 assists this season.

Phoenix has won three of its last four games at home against Dallas.

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Sunday, Apr 6