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Suns limp into San Antonio


Finley’s ankle is still swollen. But injuries don’t dampen Phoenix’s enthusiasm for tonight’s start of the best-of-3 series.

SAN ANTONIO – Spurs guard Avery Johnson can still picture that upsetting scene in Houston.

It was June 1 of last year. The Spurs were losing to the Rockets in the Western Conference finals. Houston was celebrating, and the arena announcer was advertising ticket sales for the Rockets’ return to the NBA championship series.

“We still hear the music in Houston,’ Johnson said. “That was an opportunity that we blew.

“A lot of our players, after we lost last year, wanted the playoffs to start again immediately in early November. But we had to wait.’

The waiting is over. San Antonio faces Phoenix in a best-of-5, first-round series beginning tonight at 5 (TNT) in the Alamodome.

San Antonio (59-23), the No. 2 seed in the West, beat the Suns (41-41), No. 7 in the conference, three of four times in the regular season. Phoenix won the last time they met, April 2, snapping San Antonio’s 17-game winning streak.

Suns star Charles Barkley said he’s not thinking at all about the regular-season series.

“That’s irrelevant. That doesn’t matter now. It’s the first one of three,’ Barkley said.

The Suns arrived in San Antonio hobbled by injuries. Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons said he was hoping rookie Michael Finley would guard former University of Arizona star Sean Elliott, but Finley was still bothered by a twisted left ankle and was “very doubtful’ for the opener.

Danny Manning has seen limited playing and practice time lately. He returned from knee surgery in February, developed tendinitis in the knee and played in only 33 games.

But the Suns point out injuries are nothing new this season.

“We’ve had guys hurt all year long and we’ve beaten some good teams when we weren’t at full strength,’ Fitzsimmons said. “You’ve just got to take what comes to you and do the very best you can with it.’

Kevin Johnson said it helps that the Suns have experience playing without an ideal lineup available. The injuries don’t seem to be dampening the Suns’ enthusiasm.

“The atmosphere is very loose. Hopefully the guys are excited and ready to go,’ Johnson said.

Spurs coach Bob Hill praised Phoenix as better than its .500 record.

“They’re loaded with talent, speed, quickness, defensive capabilities, shot-blocking, perimeter shooting, free-throw shooting, every ingredient you want. So we have great respect for Phoenix,’ he said.

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