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Suns on the brink of another playoff-less season

If a magic number indicates the combination of game results a team needs to qualify for the postseason, is the same number for playoff contention elimination an “unmagic number?”

If it is, that number for the Phoenix Suns is one. A Suns loss or one more win by the Los Angeles Lakers would eliminate Phoenix from postseason contention for the third straight season. It’ll be the team’s first three-year postseason absence since the span from 1986 to 1988.

The Suns host the Minnesota Timberwolves Friday at US Airways Center, and they’ll be short-handed when they do. Center Jermaine O’Neal will miss the contest with a left calf strain and an illness and according to interim head coach Lindsey Hunter, swingman Jared Dudley will probably miss the game as well.

“I’m thinking both guys have the stomach flu or something,” he said.

Dudley was limited to just eight minutes of playing time in Wednesday night’s loss to the Washington Wizards.

O’Neal’s absence means the Suns are again without a lot of big bodies. Forward Luis Scola will play center against the Timberwolves.

“We don’t have many bigs now so we’ve got to kind of ration the minutes out and hope nobody gets in foul trouble,” Hunter said with a chuckle.

The loss to Washington was also punctuated by Hunter’s benching of four young players for what he described as a lack of effort. Markieff and Marcus Morris along with Michael Beasley and Kendall Marshall all watched the entire second half of the nine-point loss.

Did they get the message?

“The guys were pretty high-spirited in practice,” Hunter said. “So I’m not going to worry one way or the other. Guys that play hard are going to play and we’ll keep pushing the issue and trying to get them to be better and that’s our job, every day, get better.”

Marshall and the Morris brothers were the last players to leave the practice court at Friday’s shootaround.

“Obviously, they got some of the message,” Hunter said.