Suns hand Mavs home-court advantage

Updated: May 29, 2006, 12:22 AM ET
Associated Press

PHOENIX -- Playing at home has hardly been an advantage in the Western Conference finals.

The Phoenix Suns had gained home-court advantage by winning Game 1 of their playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks, but they gave it back Sunday night in Game 3 with their worst offensive performance of the postseason.

In losing 95-88 -- their lowest-scoring game of the playoffs -- the Suns put themselves in a precarious position. Now, they must win Game 4 at home Tuesday or face a 3-1 deficit going to Dallas for Game 5 on Thursday.

"We know Game 4 will be huge for us," Tim Thomas said. "We have to get that game. They now have the home court back. We don't want to go back to Dallas down 3-1."

The Suns already have been down 3-1 in these playoffs. But that was against the seventh-seeded Los Angeles Lakers in the opening round. The Mavericks had the second-best record in the West, with 60 victories.

Phoenix, the league's highest-scoring team during the regular season, could not penetrate against the tenacious Dallas defense. After scoring 52 points in the first half and leading by five, the Suns' offense was inept in the second half, scoring only 16 points in the third period and 20 in the final period.

The Suns have been outscored a combined 106-82 in the second halves of Games 2 and 3, including 48-36 Sunday.

Instead of playing their usual frenetic pace on offense, the Suns resorted to slowing it down, a style that played right into Dallas' hands. Surprisingly, the Mavericks outscored Phoenix 14-4 on fast-break points -- usually a Suns specialty -- capitalizing for 17 points on 13 turnovers.

"We got caught playing 1-on-1 basketball," Thomas said. "That's definitely not smart. They got back in transition and forced us to get into a half-court set."

Coach Mike D'Antoni also was dissatisfied with the Suns' offense.

"In the first quarter, we had one assist. That's not us," he said. "That's because we weren't running and we weren't moving the basketball. We got into a half-court game.

"I don't know if the level of the game was up or we just took the foot off the accelerator or if we were mentally tired."

Steve Nash, the NBA's two-time Most Valuable Player, said the absence of injured Raja Bell hurt the Suns.

"We really miss his [Bell's] leadership, the way he plays, just by example, and how he fights, and how he never gives in," Nash said. "It would be easy to say his talent and the depth it would afford us, but more than anything just his toughness and his attitude."

Bell is considered doubtful for Tuesday's game.

Dallas, with Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard dominating the offense in the second half, went ahead 72-68 after three periods. Then, after the Suns tied the score at 72, the Mavericks took control with an 11-2 run. Phoenix tried to rally, cutting the deficit to 88-84 with 2:44 remaining.

But after regaining the ball, the Suns' final chance disappeared when Thomas made a bad pass and Howard responded with a layup.

The Suns were doomed by 34 percent shooting in the second half. Much of that was due to Dallas coach Avery Johnson inserting 7-foot-1 DeSagna Diop into the starting lineup after halftime.

Diop, not an offensive threat, is a defensive stopper. And he disrupted the Suns' offense, preventing them from driving the middle for easy baskets and forcing them to shoot from outside.

The Suns are 1-6 in the postseason when they fail to score at least 100 points, 8-2 when they reach triple figures.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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