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Stoudemire just misses triple-double

PHOENIX (AP) -- Amare Stoudemire is showing that not only can he
score and rebound, he's an adroit passer, too.

Stoudemire, the NBA's third-leading scorer and No. 18 rebounder,
came close to the first triple-double of his career with 36 points,
15 rebounds and a career-high eight assists in leading the Phoenix
Suns past the Charlotte Bobcats 115-106 Friday night.

The victory was the Suns' fourth in a row, 13th in their last 14
games and gave them a 17-3 record -- tying Seattle for the best in
the NBA -- on the one-year anniversary of Mike D'Antoni taking over
as head coach.

"I didn't know how close I was to a triple-double," Stoudemire
said. "Coach told me that I was two assists away, but tonight I
just came out and wanted to be a complete player, trying to get
everyone involved.

"The triple-double is going to come. It's something I'm going
to try and do."

Shawn Marion and Quentin Richardson each added 20 points for
Phoenix, which exceeded its NBA-high average of 108.6 points per
game. Joe Johnson scored 12 points and Steven Hunter 10, with Steve
Nash contributing nine points and 14 assists.

The expansion Bobcats, who are 0-9 on the road, were led by
former Phoenix point guard Brevin Knight's season-high 17 points.
Primoz Brezec had 16 points, and Keith Bogans and Kareem Rush each
scored 15. Rookie Emeka Okafor extended his NBA-best consecutive
game streak with his ninth straight double-double with 14 points
and 10 rebounds.

The Suns led by as many as 17 points in the fourth quarter, but
couldn't put away the pesky Bobcats. But whenever the Suns needed
offense, Stoudemire came through.

"Amare had that extra juice and he got us over the hump,"
D'Antoni said. "He had an unbelievable first half ... eight
assists is great for him. If he does that, we will be fine."

Phoenix now has won 12 straight games when playing an expansion
team for the first time. Its only loss to an expansion team was to
fellow first-year franchise Milwaukee in the 1968-69 season.

Despite the loss, Charlotte coach Bernie Bickerstaff was proud
of his team.

"They never give up," he said. "You're playing against a
terrific basketball team ... a team that likes to get up and down
the court and our guys just never surrender. My thing to them is
... you keep playing the way you're playing then you're going to
cause some problems to some teams."

Knight agreed with his coach. "We just play with our hearts,"
he said.

Stoudemire scored 20 points in the first half, including nine
straight for Phoenix late in the second quarter as the Suns raced
to a 64-55 lead. He shot 8-for-12 and grabbed eight rebounds.

He finished 13-of-20 from the field and 10-of-12 from the foul
line.

"It was a great game tonight," Stoudemire said of his overall
contributions. "I knew they were coming with the double- and
triple-team, and I did a great job of passing off. When guys are
double-teaming, the best thing I can do is give guys wide-open
shots and they were knocking them down tonight."

The Suns used an 11-0 run during a two-minute span of the first
period to take the lead for good, 15-8. Phoenix led by as many as
11 points six times during the half and Charlotte never came closer
than four.

Richardson, who hit consecutive 3-pointers during the spurt that
carried the Suns from an 8-4 deficit into the lead, finished the
half with 14 points.

Knight surpassed his previous season high of 14 points in the
first half, scoring 15 on 6-of-8 shooting.

The Bobcats helped themselves stay in contention by committing
only one turnover in the half. However, they couldn't keep up with
the running Suns, who outscored them 15-0 on fast-break points.

Charlotte sliced the deficit to three points, 65-62, early in
the third period, but the Suns responded quickly with a 12-2 surge,
highlighted by 3-pointers by Johnson and Marion.

Marion finished the quarter with 15 points and Phoenix led 93-79
after three. The highlight of the period, though, was a
scintillating finger-roll dunk by Stoudemire.<

Game notes
Suns center Jake Voskuhl was placed on the injured list after undergoing emergency appendectomy surgery Friday, and guard Yuta Tabuse, sidelined since Nov. 8 with a right quadriceps injury, was activated. ... Phoenix's 113-110 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night drew the Suns' highest television rating (8.0) in nearly two years. ... Okafor is the first NBA rookie to be averaging a double-double since Elton Brand in 1999-2000, and his 11.2 rebounds per game are the most by a first-year player since Tim Duncan averaged 11.9 in 1997-98. ... Nash and Marion are the only players on the same team to be averaging a double-double. No Suns team has finished a season with two players averaging a double-double since Connie Hawkins and Paul Silas in 1969-70, the franchise's second season. ... The Bobcats' starting lineup of Okafor, Jason Kapono, Primoz Brezec, Knight and Keith Bogans was their ninth different opening combination this season.