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Suns eye cure for punchless offense

PHOENIX -- Sporting a small wound over his right eye, Phoenix point guard Steve Nash was backed up against a wall as he met with reporters after practice yesterday.

That's where Nash's Suns will find themselves if they don't play better in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals tonight. They're feeling bruised, but not beaten, after a 95-88 Game 3 loss to Dallas Sunday left them trailing, 2-1.

Afterward Nash, who got cut early in the game, said the Suns needed to show more fight. Yesterday, Nash said he wasn't trying to send a message through the media because he had told teammates the same thing.

``I think at times we've been a little too passive," Nash said.

The Suns have to change that quickly or they will be eliminated one step short of the NBA Finals for the second consecutive season.

``It's a must-win-game situation [tonight]," Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni said. ``We win that, it's a two-out-of-three series. Obviously they have home court, but we've shown that we can win there."

Nash said one reason for the Suns' struggles is the absence of guard Raja Bell, who has missed the past two games because of a strained left calf. Bell is not expected to play in Game 4.

Bell scored only 8 points in Phoenix's 121-118 Game 1 victory at Dallas. But he brings a fire that the Suns have lacked in the past two games. It was Bell who floored Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant in Game 5 of the opening round, drawing a flagrant foul and a one-game suspension. The Suns won that game and the next two to rally from a 3-1 deficit.

Bell said he agreed with Nash's assessment that the Suns had their shoulders slumped in the second half Sunday night, when they scored only 36 points.

``I did see it a little bit, and I don't know what to attribute that to," Bell said. ``I think we have to find that [energy] from whoever's suited up."

In each of the series' first three games, the Mavs have trailed at halftime but rallied to lead in the fourth quarter. In Game 1 the Suns came back to win, but in the past two games the Mavs have outscored Phoenix, 106-82, after intermission.

That gap indicates that the Mavericks are adjusting to the Suns' up-tempo style, and that the Suns have been unable to cope.

Phoenix had only 13 assists in Game 3 after averaging 23.5 the first two games. The Suns did not record a steal Sunday night, which was a big reason why they managed only four fast-break points.

When the Suns don't run, the Suns are done. The Mavericks sense that, which is why they've committed to hustling back on defense.

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