Suns rejuvenated; Clippers inspired by past failures
They will face a Los Angeles Clippers team playing the biggest game in that franchise's mostly sad history.
The winner Monday night 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, orange-clad 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 Monday night'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."
Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said Nash's frenetic style adds to the wear and tear on the 32-year-old point guard.
"He relies on his quickness and his uncanny ability to do things a normal person can't do," D'Antoni said. "It's not like you're posting people up and just beating them to death. He relies totally on his quickness and his balance."
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's ever 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 some, but D'Antoni downplayed the possibility.
"He might dress tomorrow and see how he feels," D'Antoni said. "He looked pretty good today, but it's a long shot."
Both Thomas and D'Antoni said there was a much better chance Thomas would play Wednesday in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, if the Suns advance.
Defensively, Thomas would be a huge asset against a Clippers front line that has dominated the undersized Suns all series. However, D'Antoni said it's unfair to expect someone to play at playoff intensity before he's even had the chance to get into game shape.
The time off should have helped Clippers center Chris Kaman, who missed Game 5 with a right shoulder strain, then came back for 15 points and 10 rebounds in his team's 118-106 victory in Los Angeles in Game 6 on Thursday night.
"I just hope he's as good as he was last game," Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. "He was good, you know, and didn't have problems. But a day later, after playing, it's sore, and he has issues with it again. But I think he's going to be fine for the game."
Los Angeles' game plan is no secret: keep the ball out of Nash's hands as much as possible and pound the ball inside. Dunleavy has told his players "everything you've done during the season has prepared you for this point in time."
"So we've talked about the confidence that we have," he said, "because we've done all the things we've needed to do all the way. We've been a defensive team, we've stopped people, we've shared the ball and we've won. We've won at home, we've won on the road. The good thing is I sense nothing but confidence in our guys."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press