After losing in Houston on Friday night, the Suns knew their final chance to control their playoff destiny went with it. All they could do Wednesday was watch the scoreboard and live with the result.
In Houston, the Rockets sank the Clippers with a 35-point first quarter. And in San Antonio, Manu Ginobili returned to the lineup and the Spurs rolled to a 65-39 halftime lead over the Jazz, who seemed quite content with the idea of facing the Rockets on the road and leaving the Suns to deal with the defending NBA champion.
"It's an unbelievable way to start off the playoffs, but that's how it is and everyone in the West is going to go through it," Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni said. "Those guys are champions and they'll be ready. You think Ginobili is out (after missing three games with a groin strain) but there's no way, I know him too well and he'll be 100 percent. All of them will.
"We knew we'd have to play them sooner or later, so we might as well play sooner."
The Suns won the season series (3-1) for the first time since 2002-03, including both games after making the trade for Shaquille O'Neal - who played a key role in both victories.
"It definitely helps to have the big guy in the middle," Suns guard Steve Nash said. "(San Antonio's) size, post-up play and offensive rebounding have been difficult for us to contend with. We've been close, but hopefully this is going to take us over the top."
O'Neal said the Spurs will a great test for the Suns.
"We want to get to that final level and they are the team in the way," O'Neal said. "The last eight years, Tim (Duncan) and I have won almost all the championships and it takes a team with a dominant big man to get it done. We know what to do.
"Amaré (Stoudemire) is going to be our guy and Steve's going to be the second option and the everybody else just needs to go out and do their job."
Just when it appeared the Suns had gotten a handle on their tempers after a rash of technical fouls - they had only one in the last six games after getting an incredible 11 in a three-game span ending April 1 in Denver - tempers rose again in the season finale.
Stoudemire picked up his 11th technical of the year - tying him for fourth-most in the league with a host of others - late in the first period.
Then reserve center Brian Skinner was ejected along with Portland's Jarrett Jack with 1:26 left in the first half. The two players got into a pushing match on the way down court following a basket and Jack escalated the altercation before they were separated. Referee Steve Javie reviewed the play, and told D'Antoni that Skinner's arm went toward the face of Jack, so he upheld the initial decision to eject both players.
The Suns don't expect any further action, but all ejections are reviewed by the NBA.
"It was the fastest $3,000 (I've ever spent), but it's a contact sport," Skinner said, smiling. "We'll see what happens, but it's out of my hands. Since the Indiana-Detroit brawl, things have changed in terms of controlling the game. I was surprised, and I wasn't surprised. Hopefully, it doesn't carry over.
"I think I've had eight technicals in 10 years, so I'm doing pretty good."
Forward Grant Hill was the recipient of the annual Majerle Hustle Award prior to the game. The award, presented to the player who most personifies the qualities of Suns' Ring of Honor member Dan Majerle, is selected based on votes from Suns fans, players, coaches, team employees and Majerle. ...
Phoenix has won 232 games the past four seasons, the most in a four-season span in franchise history.