Preview: Orlando Magic (41-25) at Phoenix Suns (33-30)

Orlando Magic 111, Phoenix Suns 88



PHOENIX — There’s no shortage of hype and story lines surrounding the Phoenix Suns’ afternoon matchup with the Orlando Magic.

Marcin Gortat will finally go toe-to-toe with the man who kept him on the bench in Orlando, Dwight Howard.

Jason Richardson returns to the place where he helped lead the Suns to the Western Conference Finals.

Hedo Turkoglu is likely to be greeted by a host of boos in from of the US Airways Center crowd he continuously disappointed. Earl Clark has a chance to show the Phoenix front office that it gave up on him too soon. Vince Carter and Mickael Pietrus will face off against their former squad as well.

But despite the never-ending story lines tied to today’s ABC matchup, the player who will most likely determine the game’s outcome had zero ties to Orlando — Steve Nash.

Nash, who didn’t practice on Saturday and has struggled through a groin injury for weeks, is a “game-time decision” according to head coach Alvin Gentry.

“If he’s healthy enough to play, he’ll play,” Gentry said. “I don’t worry about Steve because if there’s any way that he can go he’ll go and if he doesn’t go it’s because there’s no way that he can. Really if he’s not going (to play) he’s got to be really, really hurt.”

Nash is clearly less than 100 percent and it’s showed on the court. Gentry sent Nash to the locker room in the third quarter of Phoenix’s loss to the Nuggets after he struggled to stay in front of Ty Lawson while turning the ball over six times in 27 minutes.

The 37-year-old isn’t right and while he’s remained consistent in the assist department, his scoring has declined considerably. Over his last five games Nash is averaging only 8.6 points on 45.5 percent shooting while making only three triples.

Aaron Brooks, who will start if Nash can’t go, said he could tell how Nash’s injury has impacted his offensive game.

“I know when I played against him he seemed to be more aggressive, shooting more,” Brooks recalled of his time facing Nash when he was with the Rockets.

If Nash can’t play, Brooks will hold the keys to the offense. After he shined on the Suns’ road trip, he’s taken a step back in his first two games at US Airways Center, shooting 3-for-15 and averaging 2.5 turnovers per game.

“As far as shooting I made some bad decisions (Thursday),” Brooks said. “I can always get better. I’m not playing well but I feel good.”

“It’s an opportunity,” Brooks added of filling in for Nash. “We definitely want (Nash) in. I’m ready to play whenever so if he’s not playing I’ll be there, if he is, we’re lucky.”

Jared Dudley explained Nash’s importance by saying he “means more to our team than Kobe does to the Lakers.” Dudley went on to praise Brooks but without their Kobe, the Suns are a different team. When Nash is on the floor this season, the Suns shoot 48.4 percent from the field but when he sits, they only make 43.7 percent of their shots.

Phoenix is battling injury and focus problems, as an angry Gentry described Saturday’s practice as “awful.”

“I didn’t get anything done today. I could have stayed over at Talking Stick for what we got done today,” he said. “It was awful. It was not good, no. We didn’t get one thing accomplished today.”

The Suns need to recapture that focus amid all of the hoopla, especially if Nash is out, as Phoenix still remains 1.5 games behind eighth-place Memphis.

“We’ve got to bring our focus to the game,” Brooks said. “We got embarrassed last game so we don’t want that to happen twice.”

Channing Frye update

Frye, who dislocated his right shoulder one week against against the Thunder, is about 10 days from returning, according to Gentry.

“He’s making progress right now but we’ll have to see where he gets to,” Gentry said.

The Suns’ sharp-shooting big man was sporting a brace around his chest and shoulder that Hakim Warrick called a “training bra.” Frye participated in warmups on Saturday and put up 100 shots for the first time since the injury. Although he was drilling shots with ease, Frye said he still has discomfort and the team wants him to take his time returning.

“I may feel good, but I don’t want to come back too early,” Frye said. “I don’t have to worry about anything else for the rest of the year.”

Although he’s taking his time coming back, that doesn’t mean Frye isn’t itching to play.

“Oh it sucks. I hate this,” Frye said. “But you know what, everything happens for a reason and I’m just trying to stay positive and continue to try and help our team any way I can.”

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