Preview: Phoenix Suns (29-27) at Minnesota Timberwolves (25-32)

Phoenix Suns 114, Minnesota Timberwolves 90



PHOENIX — We’ve come to the point of the season where there’s no way to overemphasize how important each and every game is to Phoenix’s playoff hopes.

After all, the Suns kick off a four-game road trip (which feels more like an eight-gamer following Saturday’s brief stop after three straight on the road) with a tilt in Minnesota sitting a game out of the playoff in a mad scramble in which five teams are separated by 2 1/2 games for the final three spots.

Another reminder of the importance of these games comes in the form of the Suns’ national TV schedule. Starting with tonight ESPN2-televised contest, seven of Phoenix’s final 10 games will be featured on TNT, ESPN or ESPN2 after just five of its first 56 games were on one of those networks. That includes three of the four games on this trip alone and the team’s final four games to close out the season.

“Every game, every week is make or break,” Steve Nash said. “We can’t afford to lose two or three in a row, so we’ve got to try to win two or three on the road to put ourselves in a position to upset somebody and then get way ahead of the game, so we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

Before taking on playoff teams in Memphis, Houston and San Antonio, the Suns will first face off with a Minnesota team that spent a good chunk of the season in the playoff hunt before Ricky Rubio’s season-ending knee injury derailed their bid.

The Wolves have since slipped all the way down to 12th in the West after losing five in a row. They just haven’t been the same team without their electrifying Spanish point guard, as they have dropped 13 of 17 after going 21-19 with Rubio healthy to stay in the thick of the playoff race.

However, one of those four victories came on March 12 in US Airways Center when the Wolves torched the Suns for a 129.6 offensive rating, Phoenix’s worst defensive performance of the entire season. Kevin Love pasted 30 on the Suns, and Minnesota knocked down 14-of-22 long balls (63.6 percent) while hitting 56.2 percent of its shots overall.

Love is a beast and will get his as he’s averaging 26.5 points and 13.5 boards per game — numbers that would put him in the MVP conversation if the Wolves were in playoff contention — but the Suns can’t let his supporting cast shoot the lights out as well.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” said the Suns’ red-hot shooting guard Michael Redd. “We’ve got to continue to keep playing the way we are playing and staying together. We kind of hit our stride after the All-Star break.”

That is true, and in many ways the Suns are diametrically opposite the Timberwolves. After all, the Suns’ season took off just around the same time Minnesota’s went down the gutter — the Wolves led Phoenix by three games when they met in the Suns’ first game after the break but trail them by 4 1/2 games today — and Minny possesses all the young talent in the world starting with two young superstars whereas the Suns have a very undefined future predicated on a 38-year-old point guard.

But as things stand today the Suns must win to keep their playoff hopes alive whereas Minnesota is just looking to gain more experience playing together to gear up for a potential breakthrough season next year. The Wolves’ tailspin has left them to play spoiler whereas the Suns’ playoffs started weeks ago for all intents and purposes.

“They’re all big,” Gentry said. “It doesn’t matter, East, West, whoever we play right now we’re at the point of the season where we approach every game like we’re in the playoffs.”

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