<
>

Minnesota drops 7 of 10; Suns improve to 27-4

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- With the youngest roster and the best record
in the league, the Phoenix Suns are looking forward to many more
challenges like this as the season moves on.

On Tuesday night, they passed an important test in holding off
the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Amare Stoudemire scored 34 points before his ejection to help
the Suns overcome Kevin Garnett's franchise-record 47 points and
beat the skidding Timberwolves 122-115.

"It's important for us to beat some of the more experienced
teams around the league," point guard Steve Nash said, "and learn
some lessons and continue to grow."

Minnesota trailed by 19 midway through the fourth quarter before
rallying within five with 68 seconds left, but the Timberwolves --
an early favorite in the Western Conference -- lost for the seventh
time in 10 games and fell to 16-13.

Shawn Marion added 28 points, Nash put up 20 points and 16
assists and Phoenix withstood the late charge to improve to 14-1
since a 97-93 home loss to Minnesota on Dec. 4.

"That was probably the most exciting game we've played this
year," said Stoudemire, who used several soaring dunks to shoot
15-for-19 and follow up Sunday's career-high 50-point performance
against Portland.

Sam Cassell scored 24 points for Minnesota, and Wally Szczerbiak
finished with 20 points.

The game got a little out of hand toward the end. A frustrated
Garnett drew a technical foul for talking trash with Steven Hunter,
and Stoudemire picked up his first technical a few minutes later.

"Everyone's energy was up, so I have to be more careful," said
Stoudemire, who claimed Garnett was hooking his waist while playing
defense in the post.

Fouled hard by Latrell Sprewell on a dunk with 5:09 remaining,
Stoudemire tossed the ball at Sprewell -- who returned the favor.
Both players were given technicals, meaning an automatic ejection
for Stoudemire with Phoenix leading 116-100.

That woke Minnesota up. Szczerbiak's 3-pointer capped a 10-0
spurt and cut it to 116-110 with 2:09 left, and his three-point
play with 1:08 remaining pulled the Wolves to 118-113.

Still down by five, Garnett missed a 3-pointer with about 30
seconds on the clock, and Marion got a quick dunk at the other end
to seal it.

"We got fired up," Garnett said. "We sort of took the game by
the horns. We've got to start the games like that. We've got to
start with that fury and some of the fire."

Quentin Richardson scored 16 points, and Joe Johnson had 11 for
Phoenix (27-4), which owns the NBA's best scoring average -- more
than 109 points per game -- and shot 70 percent in a 38-point first
quarter.

The Suns aren't just fast -- they can jump out of the gym, too.
None of the Wolves' rebounds or short shots came easy, because
somebody in a purple jersey was almost always up in the air with
them.

Early in the fourth quarter, Eddie Griffin had his shot blocked
in the lane three straight times -- first by Stoudemire and then
twice more by Hunter. Marion praised Hunter's help off the bench in
guarding Garnett, who had to work hard for that career-high 47.

"It was what it was for the crowd, but you know we still lost
and defending our home is something we take a lot of pride in,"
Garnett said.

The Wolves did a lot of lobbying for fouls that referee Steve
Javie and his crew wouldn't give them, but their inconsistent
perimeter defense again proved to be the biggest problem.

"That's been our Achilles' heel," coach Flip Saunders said.
^Notes:@ Szczerbiak (2003) and Tony Campbell (1990) were Minnesota's
previous record holders for points in a game with 44. ... Phoenix
hopes backup point guard Leandro Barbosa (chicken pox) will be
available for Saturday's game at Los Angeles against the Clippers,
coach Mike D'Antoni said. ... Timberwolves center Michael
Olowokandi, who sat out Saturday's game with a bruised right knee,
returned to the starting lineup and was removed less than three
minutes into the game. He wound up scoreless with three fouls in 10
minutes. ... Center Jake Voskuhl, taken off the injured list on
Monday, replaced Hunter when he fouled out late in the fourth
quarter. ... Minnesota played consecutive home games for the first
time since Nov. 6-9.