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Playoff implications abound as season nears close

For the Phoenix Suns, it’s time to buckle down and win
some games.

With only five or six games remaining for the teams vying
for the final slots in the Western Conference playoffs,
the Suns are win-or-go-home mode if they want to return to
the NBA’s postseason.

Phoenix is currently in 9th place in the Western
Conference, but only a game behind Denver and Houston as
the truncated 2012 season heads into its final turn. The
Suns are bunched with four other teams jockeying for
playoff participation.

Here is a look at the five teams in contention for the
final three Western Conference playoff spots.

Phoenix Suns (31-29)

Games remaining: 6 (5 home, 1 away)

Home: Portland, Oklahoma City, Los Angeles
Clippers, Denver and San Antonio.

Away: Utah.

Games against winning teams: 5

Games against losing teams: 1

Significant Injuries: Steve Nash (hip), Grant Hill
(knee), Nash will play, while Hill is a gametime decision
versus Portland Monday night.

Analysis: The Suns have the advantage of playing
five of their remaining six games on their home floor,
where they’ve gone 10-2 since the All-Star break. The bad
news is their opponents are all tough, including games
against Oklahoma City and San Antonio, the two top teams
in the West.

Dallas Mavericks (34-27)

Games remaining: 5 (2 home, 3 away)

Home: Houston and Golden State

Away: Utah, Chicago and Atlanta

Games against winning teams: 4

Games against losing teams: 1

Significant Injuries: Guard Rodrigue Beaubois (calf
strain) missed Sunday’s game vs. the Lakers, but could be
back Monday night at Portland.

Analysis: The Mavs do have championship experience
to rely on, and they’ll need to channel it against a rough
schedule that includes road games against Chicago and

Denver Nuggets (33-27)

Games remaining: 6 (2 home, 4 away)

Home: Los Angeles Clippers, Orlando

Away: Houston Rockets, Phoenix Suns, Oklahoma City
Thunder, Minnesota Timberwolves.

Games against winning teams: 5

Games against losing teams: 1

Significant Injuries: Rudy Fernandez (back) is out
for the rest of the season.

Analysis: A rugged schedule which features just two
home games and five against teams over .500 will be tough
to navigate for George Karl’s squad, which has won four of
its last six contests.

Houston Rockets (32-28)

Games remaining: 6 (3 home, 3 away)

Home: Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors, New
Orleans Hornets.

Away: Dallas Mavericks, New Orleans Hornets, Miami

Games against winning teams: 3

Games against losing teams: 3

Significant Injuries: Kevin Martin (shoulder)is out
indefinitely and forward Marcus Camby left Sunday’s game
against Denver with a back injury.

Analysis: While Monday’s match up Denver doesn’t
solely determine who goes to the playoffs, it is a very
pivotal game for both teams. The Rockets have picked a bad
time to slump. Houston has lost their last three games –
all to teams (Utah, Phoenix, Denver) they’re in direct
competition with.

Utah Jazz (31-30)

Games remaining: 5 (4 home, 1 away)

Home: Dallas Mavericks, Orlando Magic, Phoenix
Suns, Portland Trailblazers.

Away: Portland Trailblazers

Games against winning teams: 3

Games against losing teams: 2

Significant Injuries: Earl Watson (knee) out, C.J.
Miles (calf) possible, Josh Howard (knee) out, Raja Bell
(knee) out.

Analysis: The Jazz are currently in tenth place,
and the combination of a daunting schedule and mounting
injuries to rotation players will probably be their

Heading into play Monday, the
Western Conference is tightly bunched.
Five games will
be pivotal in determining who punches their playoff ticket
and who, to borrow a phrase from TNT’s Kenny Smith, is
goin’ fishin’. Those games are:

Denver at Houston – Monday 4/16

Dallas at Utah – Monday 4/16

Houston at Dallas – Wednesday 4/18

Denver at Phoenix – Saturday 4/21

Phoenix at Utah – Tuesday 4/24

Arizona Sports’ Vince Marotta contributed to this