The Associated Press

PHOENIX Coach Paul Westphal knows the Phoenix Suns' season-ending seven-game winning streak won't be of any help in the opening round of the playoffs against the Golden State Warriors.

"The only thing that matters is the game (tonight)," he said. "Nobody can show me that momentum means anything. Nobody can predict when momentum stops. You look back if you've won a bunch in a row, and people say, 'Hey, they're on a roll,' but it's like every time you roll the dice.

"It doesn't matter if you roll 12 7s in a row; the next time you roll, the odds are still the same."

Last year, the Suns swept the Los Angeles Lakers in the five regular-season meetings. In the playoffs, the Lakers won Games 1 and 2 in Phoenix, forcing the Suns to win twice on the road and then survive a 112-104 overtime thriller to take the best-of-5 series.

Little wonder the Suns are tuning out trivia such as the Warriors' inability to win in Phoenix since the 1989 playoffs and focusing on Golden State's resilience, versatility and young stars like Chris Webber and Latrell Sprewell.

"He plays basketball with the same grace that Michael Jordan played with," Suns point guard Kevin Johnson said of Sprewell, who averaged 15.4 points as a rookie last season and upped that to 21.0 this year.

Westphal said injuries to key Golden State players like Tim Hardaway and Sarunas Marciulionis forced Sprewell, a brilliant defender who led NBA guards with 76 blocks, to develop as a scorer.

"I think he exceeded everybody's expectations offensively," Westphal said. "Now that he's there, he's not going to go away."

The Warriors' injury curse began last season when they missed the playoffs with a 34-48 record. Chris Mullin missed the last 36 games that year and the first 20 this season because of hand injuries.

Their turnaround to this year's 50-32 mark was the sixth-best in NBA history.

Coach Don Nelson said he was looking forward to seeing Webber, the top pick in last year's draft, guard Phoenix's Charles Barkley as Webber gets his first playoff experience.

"I don't think anybody knows until he goes through it, but I think he has that ability to lift his game to another level," Nelson said. "It's a matchup I'm interested in. In the future, I want him to reflect back on this series."

Barkley missed 17 games because of injuries but averaged 21.6 points, 11.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists. Webber averaged 17.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists.

Webber said he will approach the task with respect, but no fear.

"He makes a lot of guys look foolish. I've got to stay down, not go for pump fakes, and stand my ground," Webber said.

Barkley, who was bothered by an injured shoulder until just before the playoffs last year, floundered against the defense of the Lakers' left-handed Elden Campbell and didn't find his stride until the second round as the Suns went on to the Finals, but lost to the Chicago Bulls.

Barkley said the Suns will be aggressive this time.

"The Lakers just kind of like jumped on us, and we were retreating the first two games," Barkley said. Read Next Article