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Archive for Monday, May 22, 2006

Rested Suns, Clippers square off in finale

May 22, 2006

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— Steve Nash and the rest of the Phoenix Suns got some much-needed rest for their second Game 7 of these playoffs.

They will face a Los Angeles Clippers team playing the biggest game in that franchise's mostly sad history.

The winner tonight advances to the Western Conference finals, where the Clippers never have been.

"It's the ultimate," Nash said after Sunday's practice. "I think both teams are going to be extremely prideful and will play with a lot of emotion. I think it will be a great game."

The contest will be played in front of a raucous, packed house at US Airways Center, where the Suns blew out that other Los Angeles team, the Lakers, in Game 7 of the first round.

"I don't anticipate a Lakers Game 7," the Suns' Raja Bell said. "I think they're probably more up for the challenge than the Lakers were as far as being ready to play."

Nash shed a little more light on the nature of his struggles in the series, where his shooting has been off and he hasn't moved in the style that made him the league's Most Valuable Player for the second year in a row.

Nash has a chronic back ailment he has had to deal with for years. At times, the muscles around the damaged area don't provide the support he needs.

After playing 12 playoff games in 23 days, Nash desperately needed the three-day break that precedes tonight's series finale.

"I have a stress fracture in my spine," he said. "It's a long story. The muscles shut off and I have to retrain them to work properly. I feel like I've been able to do that. I feel good."

The Clippers, of course, have earned some rest, too, and come to Phoenix confident their interior play, led by Elton Brand at the best he ever has been, can bring a victory in hostile surroundings.

"It's the biggest game of my career," said Brand, who has averaged 24.5 points and 10.4 rebounds in the playoffs, "and I'm just excited and ready to go out there and play."

The Suns might have Kurt Thomas available for spot duty. The Phoenix center has been sidelined since Feb. 22 with a stress fracture in his right foot. Thomas took part in a team scrimmage and said he might be able to play, but D'Antoni downplayed the possibility.

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