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Talking about Amare Stoudemire's return tonight for Game 6, Phoenix Suns coach Mike D'Antoni went for the understatement.
"That'll help," D'Antoni said Thursday.
Stoudemire and Boris Diaw were suspended for Game 5 on Wednesday night for leaving the bench during a minor scuffle late in Game 4. Without the two players, the Suns lost 88-85 and the Spurs grabbed a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.
"Every time you go through some tough times, and we have this year, we've snapped back from it," D'Antoni said.
Still, while Stoudemire's return will be key to getting a road win and staying alive Friday night, the Suns didn't wallow in his Game 5 absence.
"Although we were interrupted, that wasn't on our mind after the game. 'If we just had Amare. If we just had Boris,'" Suns star Steve Nash said. "We were thinking, 'If I just made this play. ... If I made this shot.'"
The Spurs went a little easier on the Suns, applauding their undermanned effort.
"We fought the whole way through. We made it a 48-minute game, a la Phoenix in the last game," Tim Duncan said Wednesday. "Credit to them for playing as short-handed as they did."
Nash, Raja Bell and Shawn Marion each played more than 45 minutes Wednesday to make up for the suspended players. Kurt Thomas, who averaged 18 minutes during the regular season, played 36 minutes.
"We all had to play a lot of minutes, and I'm sure we were all tired last night," Nash said. "But you bounce back, you take care of yourself and you get your rest."
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he's not relying on any fatigue Phoenix might have to help his team close out the series.
"One more game doesn't tire anybody out or not playing a game doesn't make you any more fresh," Popovich said.
The Spurs' Robert Horry will sit out again Friday. His flagrant foul that sent Nash tumbling into the scorer's table on Monday and a forearm to Bell in the subsequent scrum just before the Suns sealed a 104-98 victory resulted in a two-game suspension. Stoudemire and Diaw left the bench, but didn't reach the confrontation.
Horry has averaged 6.4 points during the playoffs.
Helpless to prevent his team's loss, Stoudemire said he's more than ready to travel to San Antonio, where some fans have dubbed him "Stoude-whiner" for comments earlier in the series calling the Spurs a "dirty team" and criticizing Bruce Bowen and Manu Ginobili in particular.
"We understand what it takes to win in a hostile environment," Stoudemire said. "It's going to be pretty exciting. Their fans are going to be pretty amped, and so will I."
The Spurs traveled back to San Antonio on Thursday.
"We still have a lot of work to do here," Popovich said after the team landed at the airport. "And tomorrow's going to be a heck of a challenge against a very good team."
Phoenix is confident it can pick up Friday's road game to force a return to Arizona for Game 7. The Suns won Game 4 in San Antonio, while the Spurs have won twice on the road this series. The Suns were 28-13 on the road during the regular season, while the Spurs lost just 10 at home.
"I felt confident at the start of the series and I feel confident now," Nash said. "It hasn't gone our way thus far. We've had a lot of breaks go against us, but we still feel like we've got a great opportunity here. We're a capable road team."
The winner of the series will meet the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference finals.
"We've got to play like it's our last game because it is our last game if we lose," Diaw said.
AP Sports Writer Andrew Bagnato in Phoenix contributed to this report.
Spurs try to close out replenished Suns and avoid a Game 7
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