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.
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(notes).
“We don’t have any quitters on our team,” forward Trevor Ariza(notes) 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(notes) and Jordan Hill(notes) 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.