Preview: Phoenix Suns (31-28) at Milwaukee Bucks (23-36)

Phoenix Suns 102, Milwaukee Bucks 88

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Both the Suns and the Bucks are on the outside looking in on the playoff race.

Phoenix is ninth in the west, a game and a half out of eighth, while the Bucks are 10th in the East, three and a half games out of eighth.

When the two teams meet Friday night in Milwaukee, one squad will inch a bit closer to the final playoff spot in their respective conference.

On Feb. 2, the Bucks visited Phoenix and were shut down offensively, only scoring 77 points and shooting just over 31 percent from the field.

That night was during the run when the Suns were playing lights out defensively, holding Detroit to 74, Boston to 71, Utah to 83 and Golden State to 88.

Phoenix won that game 92-77, with Marcin Gortat leading the way with 19 points and 11 rebounds.

Gortat took advantage of the Bucks being without big man Andrew Bogut and dominated the game.

Expect the Polish Hammer to perform well again Friday with Bogut not playing again due to a chest injury.

Without their center in the lineup, the Bucks were out rebounded in Phoenix 54-39.

It was the 23rd consecutive time the Suns beat the Bucks at  home.

At the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Phoenix has won four of the last five meetings.

Overall, the Suns have won 34 of the last 39 games against the Bucks.

Yeah, I’d say the visitors have the historical edge.

Milwaukee has lost 10 of 14 and struggled mightily on Tuesday to defeat the Pistons by two.

The Bucks’ Drew Gooden will also be out for Friday’s contest, another blow to the upset bid for the home team.

The Suns are coming off a disappointing 115-103 loss to Boston on Wednesday.  The team’s starters didn’t play up to par and Phoenix only crawled back into the game when the bench came in and provided a late spark.

How the first unit responds Friday in the fifth game of a six-game road trip will likely determine the outcome.

The Suns can’t take the Bucks lightly and look forward to Sunday’s matchup in Oklahoma City with the Thunder.

In Phoenix’s last two games on this road trip against bad teams, Channing Frye needed to hit game-winning shots in both to save the Suns from suffering two embarrassing losses.

The newest Sun, Aaron Brooks, has gotten increased minutes in every game he’s played in a Phoenix uniform so far.

Against the Pacers, he played just 10 minutes, scoring three points.

In New Jersey, he played 14 minutes, scoring eight points and adding four assists.

And then Wednesday against the Celtics, Brooks finally got extended time on the court, playing 21 minutes, scoring 17 points and adding seven assists.

Look for that trend to continue Friday night in Milwaukee. If Brooks performs well enough, Alvin Gentry will want to keep him in longer to save Steve Nash for crunch time.

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