The race for a playoff spot continues today as the Suns host the Nuggets. A win today plus a win Tuesday versus the Jazz would clinch a spot for Phoenix, winners of 5 of 8 since their loss to the Nuggets two weeks ago.

Paul Coro reports that Grant Hill will not play today due to his nagging knee injury.

Grant Hill will not play today vs. Denver. Lateral movement is still an issue with the right knee.

— Paul Coro (@paulcoro) April 21, 2012

Suns vs. Nuggets Game Preview: Time to Break the Streak

Daily Western Conference Playoff Standings Update: Utah Jazz Biting At Phoenix Suns' Heels

Next Game

Denver Nuggets 118, Phoenix Suns 107 PHOENIX — Phoenix Suns head coach Alvin Gentry won’t call anything a must-win. He despises the term, thinks it’s a silly mantra. “I...

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Sebastian Telfair's outstanding play has been a key difference for the Suns during the second half of the season.

The Denver Nuggets have defeated the Phoenix Suns five consecutive times, including margins of victory of 34, 19 and 17. In the last meeting between the teams two weeks ago, the Suns at least kept it close, but 16 turnovers led to 26 Nuggets points and Arron Afflalo torched the Suns for 30, including five converted 3-pointers, in a 105-99 Nuggets win that put a serious dent in the Suns playoff chances.

Five Suns wins and an emergence into the 8th spot in the Western Conference later and they face the Nuggets again, with three games remaining and the thinnest of margins for error. The Nuggets have owned the Suns recently, with their athleticism, depth and aggressive defense causing the Suns all kinds of problems. That simply has to end or, frankly, the Suns don't deserve to make the playoffs.

Keys will be crisp offensive execution, avoidance of turnovers and playing strong transition defense to slow down a Nuggets team which is the league's highest-scoring at 103.5PPG.

George Karl's Nuggets play fast, they take chances on defense to create turnovers, and they leave perimeter shooters open. Denver is 24th in the league in opponents' FG% and dead last in the league in opponents' 3-point %. They can certainly be scored upon but win shootouts since they hit an excellent .471 from the field themselves.

In the first two games of this season's series between the teams, Grant Hill and Steve Nash sat out the first in the middle game of a B2B2B, and the Nuggets smacked the Suns 109-92 in a fairly sloppy game in which the teams combined for 44 turnovers. Hill missed this month's game as well with a knee injury and the latest word from Alvin Gentry is that there is a "good chance" he'll pay today.

If Hill is able to go today and is healthy enough to move effectively, it would provide a needed boost to the Suns defense as he could shadow Nuggets scorers Danilo Gallinari or Afflalo.

Robin Lopez created quite a stir with his hard foul on Blake Griffin, leaving Clippers fans and players angry over his flagrant-2 take-down, but there is still no word from the league office on additional punishment for Lopez so he's expected to play today. Many NBA observers condemned Lopez for his actions but Lakers Pau Gasol explained earlier this month how Griffin tends to incite his opponents:

"When you make a great play, obviously there's a lot of emotions and I understand the excitement of it," Gasol said. "But at the same time, you have to be respectful too. Otherwise, you probably will instigate retaliation or a bad, violent reaction. So you have to be careful with that. But that's just me."

I, for one, was slack-jaw flabbergasted watching TNT's post-game and hearing Barkley rant about how the Clippers needed an enforcer to stand up to big, bad, intimidating teams. Who, the Suns? It's true, they are becoming a tougher team and players like Lopez, Sebastian Telfair, Jared "WHAT'S UP?" Dudley and rookie Markieff Morris aren't afraid to mix it up

The hard foul from Lopez, and Dudley getting in Griffin's face were more symbolic, though. Winning a tough, physical, crucial late-season game over a quality opponent was the real display of toughness. Well, Suns, the time to man up again is right now, fighting for your season against a team that's beaten you down every time since November of 2010.

From the Denver Post:

Nuggets coach George Karl in a No. 6 state of mind: "Anytime you play Phoenix, you have to control the engine, which is Steve Nash," Karl said. "Nash's quarterbacking, he's still great. I thought earlier in the year they were struggling with their personality, but they have figured themselves out. I think they are a team that's a lot like us — they have Nash as their stud — but they have a lot of good players and you've got to be ready for a lot of different personality."

Nuggets Danilo Gallinari staying "positive" through slump: In Gallinari's six games since returning from a broken thumb, the small forward has averaged only 10.8 points while shooting just 33.3 percent from the field. While still recovering from the fractured left thumb, Gallinari is playing through pain in his right wrist too."I fell down a couple of times in the Houston game and I hurt it, but it's getting better," Gallinari said after Thursday's practice. "It will be good."

From Denver Stiffs:

Nuggets at Suns: Controlling Steve Nash There sure isn't much left to say at this point in the season. The Nuggets will need to control the pick-and-roll game and minimize the damage by Marcin Gortat (14 points and 14 rebounds vs. the Clippers). The Nuggets haven't had issues scoring against the Suns this season, so stopping their offense is the obvious key to this one.

From AZ Central:

Phoenix Suns center Marcin Gortat working on being more physical:

"I've just got to finish harder. At some point, when you feel really comfortable with the shooting and left hook and right hook from outside, then all of a sudden you're trying to be finesse. I just have got to finish that."

Gortat entered Thursday night's game with 47 dunks this season, ranking him 34th in league.

FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
Ty Lawson 57 34.9 6.0 12.6 48.0 1.1 3.2 34.1 2.9 3.5 82.6 0.9 2.8 3.7 6.5 2.6 1.4 0.1 1.6 16.1
Arron Afflalo 58 33.5 5.2 11.2 46.5 1.4 3.6 39.8 3.2 4.1 79.1 0.6 2.5 3.1 2.4 1.3 0.6 0.2 2.2 15.1
Danilo Gallinari 39 31.2 4.5 10.8 41.3 1.4 4.3 32.1 4.2 4.9 86.8 0.6 4.1 4.7 2.6 1.6 1.0 0.5 2.0 14.5
Al Harrington 62 27.6 5.5 12.2 44.6 1.6 4.8 33.3 1.9 2.8 67.2 1.1 5.0 6.2 1.4 1.8 0.9 0.2 2.8 14.4
JaVale McGee 57 25.5 4.9 8.9 54.9 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.3 2.8 46.3 2.8 5.2 8.0 0.5 1.5 0.6 2.2 2.8 11.1
Andre Miller 62 27.6 3.7 8.4 44.4 0.3 1.3 23.1 2.1 2.6 81.6 0.8 2.6 3.5 6.6 2.6 1.0 0.1 2.0 9.9
Kenneth Faried 42 21.9 3.7 6.3 57.9 0.0 0.0 0.0 2.5 3.6 69.3 3.0 4.4 7.4 0.7 1.1 0.8 1.0 2.5 9.9
Wilson Chandler 8 26.8 3.9 9.9 39.2 0.4 1.5 25.0 1.3 1.5 83.3 0.8 4.4 5.1 2.1 2.3 0.8 0.8 2.3 9.4
Corey Brewer 55 21.7 3.3 7.8 42.8 0.6 2.2 26.1 1.6 2.3 69.3 0.8 1.9 2.6 1.5 1.0 1.2 0.3 1.9 8.8
Rudy Fernandez 31 22.9 3.2 7.3 44.0 1.3 3.9 32.8 1.0 1.4 69.8 0.3 1.8 2.1 2.4 1.3 1.0 0.1 1.2 8.6
Kosta Koufos 44 16.3 2.4 4.0 59.7 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.7 1.2 60.4 2.0 3.3 5.3 0.3 0.7 0.5 0.9 1.9 5.5
Timofey Mozgov 42 15.8 2.2 4.3 51.1 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.9 1.3 67.9 1.2 2.9 4.1 0.5 1.1 0.3 0.9 1.9 5.3
Chris Andersen 32 15.2 1.8 3.4 54.6 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.6 2.6 61.0 1.5 3.1 4.6 0.2 0.5 0.6 1.4 1.6 5.3
Jordan Hamilton 24 10.1 1.8 4.2 41.6 0.7 1.9 37.8 0.1 0.2 40.0 0.4 2.0 2.4 0.7 0.6 0.1 0.1 0.6 4.3
Julyan Stone 20 8.5 0.7 1.6 41.9 0.1 0.6 18.2 0.4 0.6 72.7 0.3 1.0 1.2 1.7 0.6 0.4 0.3 0.9 1.8

Go ahead and wear your big-boy pants today, Shannon. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-US PRESSWIRE

The Phoenix Suns begin today with a firm hold on 8th place in the NBA's Western Conference. If the Suns win 2 of their last 3 games, with one of those being Utah on Tuesday, then the Suns will have won the right to extend their season into the playoffs.

Yet, the "playoff predictors" have the Jazz overtaking the Suns by virtue of an easier schedule. The Suns own the tiebreaker, so the Jazz HAVE to finish with a better record. The Jazz play 3 home games to close out their season - hosting the Howard-less Magic, the Suns and then the Trailblazers.

If the Suns finish 3-0, they're in.

If the Jazz finish 3-0, they're in because that means the Suns could do no better than 2-1.

If the Suns finish 2-1, they're in as long as the Jazz go 2-1 as well. The simplest way to accomplish this is to beat the Jazz on Tuesday. But even if the Suns lose to the Jazz, as long as the Jazz lose to either the Magic or Blazers and the Suns beat the Nuggets and Spurs, then the Suns still make the playoffs.

You've heard all this before.

For maximum comfort level, the Suns should just go ahead and beat Denver today while the Jazz lose to the Magic. And then when the Suns beat the Jazz on Tuesday night, the suspense will be over.

Sound good?

One team you don't see mentioned anymore: the Houston Rockets.

Unfortunately for Rockets fans, and Dragon lovers, the Rockets have suddenly hit a wall. Just over a week ago, the Rockets were 32-25, in 6th place in the West, and seemed certain to make the playoffs.

Now? They've lost 6 consecutive games (Jazz, Suns, Nuggets x2, Mavs and Hornets) to drop a full game OUT of the playoffs with only 3 to go. Sure, it's possible they win their final 3 games, while Utah and Phoenix go 1-5 collectively. But that seems even more unlikely than than their earlier hold on playoff position they've frittered away. The Rox have an easy Golden State game today, but then have to play AT Miami, with the Heat fighting for playoff positioning, and then host the suddenly-scary Hornets to close out the season. Expect the Miami loss to put an official end to the Rockets' playoff hopes.

It's really just the Jazz and Suns fighting for the right to play the Thunder or Spurs in round one. Which seems funny, in a way. Round 1 has been the last 2 weeks already, hasn't it?

Editor’s Note: The following is a lengthy free-flowing conversation between Michael Schwartz and Mike Schmitz on the state of the Suns. Michael Schwartz:┬áRight now all the Phoenix Suns can...

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