Suns-Nuggets Preview

The Associated Press

The Denver Nuggets know they caught a break when Phoenix Suns coach Alvin Gentry decided to rest Steve Nash the last time these teams played. They're unlikely to be as fortunate this time with the Suns making a strong playoff push.

Playing its first home game in more than two weeks, Denver goes for a fifth consecutive victory in this series Friday night while surging Phoenix tries to move back into playoff position.

The Nuggets ended a five-game home losing streak with a 109-92 win over the Suns on Feb. 14 - a victory that came with the star point guard out of the lineup.

"Phoenix kind of gave us a some slack by not playing Nash,'' coach George Karl said after the Nuggets won for the eighth time in nine home games versus Phoenix (28-26).

Back from a 4-3 trip that ended with a 94-92 loss to conference-worst New Orleans on Wednesday, the Nuggets (29-25) can expect to see plenty of Nash on Friday.

Nash scored just 13 points in a 107-105 victory at Utah on Wednesday but hit two baskets in the final 14 seconds, including a lean-in jumper from the foul line with 1.7 seconds left.

He was also one assist shy of reaching double digits for a fourth consecutive game.

"You get the ball in his hands and you know he is going to get something good for his team," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "... He is a great player and he made great plays for them down the stretch."

The Suns, winners of three straight and 16 of 23, need more production from Nash in their final 12 games as they try to avoid missing the postseason for the third time in four seasons.

With a victory over Denver and a Rockets loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday, Phoenix would climb into a three-way tie for eighth place in the West.

"We are gaining confidence and we believe that we can keep winning," said Nash, among the league leaders with 11.2 assists per game.

The Nuggets like their chances of securing a ninth consecutive playoff berth, but their inconsistency could prevent that from happening. Denver defeated Eastern Conference-best Chicago and Orlando - which was without Dwight Howard - during its just-completed trip, but also lost to Toronto and the Hornets.

The Nuggets' playoff hopes could also hinge on their play at home, as they've alternated losses and wins in their last eight games there.

The Suns will complete their three-game trip by trying to win for the fifth time in six road games.

Nash, averaging 17.6 points and 11.3 assists in his last eight games in Denver, may see plenty of Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson with backup Andre Miller's status questionable. Miller was ejected Wednesday for a flagrant-2 foul on New Orleans' Carl Landry.

Veteran guard Michael Redd has led the Suns reserves with 14.0 points per game during the winning streak. He scored 20 on Feb. 14 while starting in place of Grant Hill, who was also given the night off to rest.

Hill has missed the last five games with a torn right meniscus.

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