Phoenix (36-36) at Sacramento (20-52)

By NOEY KUPCHAN, STATS Writer Monday, Mar 28, 2011 Tipoff: 10:00 pm EDT Tue Mar 29, 2011

The Phoenix Suns’ playoff hopes are getting slimmer as they continue to fade in the Western Conference.

The Sacramento Kings will miss out on the postseason for the fifth year in a row, but find themselves in the midst of a season-best winning streak.

Phoenix hopes to avoid a fourth loss in five games while host Sacramento tries for a fourth consecutive win overall and third straight in the series when the teams meet Tuesday night.

The Suns’ postseason chances took a major hit Sunday as they fell for the seventh time in 10 games, losing 91-83 to Dallas.

That defeat, along with a Memphis victory, dropped 10th-place Phoenix (36-36) four games back of the Grizzlies for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.

The Suns, who rank fourth in the league with 105.0 points per game, have scored 100 or fewer in six of their last 10 games, losing all six and falling to 5-21 in such situations this season.

Steve Nash(notes), averaging 15.5 points, continues to play at less than 100 percent and has scored a total of nine points on 4-of-20 shooting in his last two contests.

“I am having a hard time getting the ball in the basket right now. It has been a tough year,” said Nash, averaging 23.3 points and 14.6 assists in three meetings with the Kings in 2010-11. “We are facing some pains right now because of the mountain we had to climb all year. I think we have to play with class and dignity and go on fighting every night.”

Center Marcin Gortat(notes) - averaging 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds in his last six games - and swingman Jared Dudley(notes) started in place of Robin Lopez(notes) and Vince Carter(notes) on Sunday. Gortat and Dudley combined for 40 points and 20 rebounds.

Despite Nash’s impressive numbers against Sacramento (20-52), Phoenix has lost back-to-back games to the Kings, partly due to getting outrebounded by an average of 21.5. The Suns had taken 17 of the previous 19 matchups in the series.

After winning four of their previous 22 games overall, the Kings went 4-1 on their recently completed road trip - including Sunday’s 114-111 overtime win over Philadelphia, their third consecutive victory.

“We know our record is not very good. We always felt we had a good team,” coach Paul Westphal told NBA.com. “We’re learning. We’re becoming a good defensive team and we’re sorting things out.”

Guard Marcus Thornton(notes), averaging 22.0 points since joining Sacramento from New Orleans prior to the trade deadline, scored 32 on Sunday and was one of seven Kings to reach double figures.

Sacramento trailed by as many as 12 points but outrebounded the 76ers by 22 and recorded its first OT win in six tries.

“Our team has a tendency to hang our heads and not bounce back from those kinds of things,” Westphal said. “We haven’t been a good closing team for most of the year, but lately, we’ve improved in that area, too.”

Center Samuel Dalembert(notes) had his third straight double-double with 13 points and a season-best 19 rebounds. Tyreke Evans(notes) scored 10 points off the bench in his second game back since missing 19 with plantar fasciitis in his left foot.

Thornton averaged 20.5 points - 7.3 more than his career mark - in his last four games against the Suns while with the Hornets. He had 10 points and 10 rebounds Jan. 30 at Phoenix for his only career double-double.

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Tuesday, Mar 29