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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Phoenix out to prove defense overrated

Associated Press

With an offense as relentless as the Arizona heat, the Phoenix Suns are trampling the conventional wisdom about defense being the way to go this time of year.

Through two rounds of the playoffs, Most Valuable Player Steve Nash and crew have taken the league’s highest-scoring average in 10 years and jacked it up nearly six points a game. They’ve done it while facing tricked-up defenses that have had more time to study them, and even though they’ve been without their third-leading scorer the last four games.

Now begins the real challenge: Doing it in the Western Conference finals against the San Antonio Spurs, who are perfectly cast in the role of upholding conventional wisdom.

San Antonio has won two of the last six championships with defense. The Spurs allowed the fewest points in the league this season and recently had Tim Duncan and Bruce Bowen, their best inside and outside stoppers, receive their seemingly annual spots on the NBA’s all-defensive team.

They also come into this series well-tested, having already eliminated high-scoring teams in the Denver Nuggets and Seattle SuperSonics.

“It will be a very big challenge for us,” said Nash, whose personal challenge will be topping his phenomenal second-round series against Dallas. “If we continue to show the pressure and poise we’ve shown all season, we’ll be all right.”

Phoenix is 8-2 in the playoffs and has scored at least 106 every game. The Suns are averaging 116 points a game in the playoffs.

Heat mum on Shaq’s health

Shaquille O’Neal’s availability for the start of the Eastern Conference finals was shrouded in mystery, his bruised right thigh still a source of concern.

The Detroit Pistons don’t necessarily believe the story, however.

O’Neal practiced with the Miami Heat on Saturday, participating in some 5-on-5, full-contact, full-court basketball for the first time in 11 days. He was held out of some later portions of the workout, a move designed so he wouldn’t overtax the sore muscle that has bothered him for five weeks.

Still, he was noncommittal about being ready for Monday’s Game 1 with the Pistons, saying he “hopefully” would be in the Heat starting lineup against the defending NBA champions.

Vegas wants All-Star game

NBA officials will return to Las Vegas next week to scout potential venues as part of the city’s bid to host the league’s 2007 All-Star game.

Las Vegas is attempting to become the first city without an NBA team to hold the All-Star game. Memphis, Tenn., is the other city with a confirmed interest in hosting the All-Star weekend in 2007 or 2008.

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