<
>

Suns move half-game ahead of Spurs for best record

PHOENIX (AP) -- One night, Amare Stoudemire wasn't feeling well.
The next, he was unstoppable.

Stoudemire had 42 points and 12 rebounds, sending the Phoenix
Suns to a 136-128 victory over the Utah Jazz on Monday night.

"I'm still feeling my symptoms, so it wasn't an easy night,"
Stoudemire said.

He sure made it look easy, though, finishing with his third
career 40-point game.

"I'm never concerned about him," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni
said. "He's proved time and time again that he's a guy that gives
us energy when we need it, and he stepped up big for us tonight."

Steve Nash matched a season high with 18 assists in a game full
of bests -- the Suns and Jazz each scored their most points this
season, and their combined 264 points set an NBA high.

Quentin Richardson added 22 points, including a 3-pointer with
1:21 left that opened a 128-121 lead. Nash scored 19 to help
Phoenix (41-12) move a half-game ahead of idle San Antonio for the
NBA's best record.

Shawn Marion had 18 points and Joe Johnson 13 for the Suns, who
took three games from the Jazz to win the season series 3-1 for the
first time since 1992-93.

Stoudemire scored 15 of Phoenix's 40 points in the third quarter
to help the Suns overcome a four-point halftime deficit.
Richardson's 25-footer, his seventh 3 of the game, was Phoenix's
last field goal, but the Suns held on from the foul line, finishing
33-of-42.

The Jazz had six players in double figures, three off the bench,
but couldn't earn coach Jerry Sloan his 935th victory to tie Dick
Motta for seventh place on the NBA's career list.

Sloan thought his team lacked intensity at the end.

"That's the thing I have a difficult time with," he said. "We
acted like we wanted to be in the ballgame and get it over with and
go home. Finally we competed a little bit, but obviously we
couldn't defend them well enough."

Raja Bell had a season-high 22 points, Howard Eisley had a
season-high 20 and 11 assists, and Matt Harpring had 16 points and
10 rebounds.

"We had a couple of guys out, but we still competed and gave
ourselves a chance to win," said Eisley, who fouled out in the
final seconds. "That's all you can ask for in this league."

Andrei Kirilenko had 11 points and four assists when he sprained
his right ankle 4:18 into the second quarter. Carlos Boozer, Utah's
leading scorer, injured his right foot with 44 seconds left in the
second, leaving with 14 points and nine rebounds.

Neither returned, and their absence hurt Utah on both ends.

Phoenix, which trailed for all but the opening minutes of the
first half, got a burst of energy when three more Jazz players got
into foul trouble early in the third quarter.

Harpring, who replaced Kirilenko at small forward, and starters
Mehmet Okur and Raul Lopez all picked up a fourth foul in a
46-second span.

Lopez's fourth sent Stoudemire to the foul line after a layup,
and the three-point play gave the Suns a 65-64 lead with 10:12
remaining in the third.

Stoudemire had two more three-point plays after muscling in
layups off offensive rebounds. His third of the period opened an
86-73 Phoenix lead with 4:22 to go.

The Jazz shot 68 percent in the first quarter, leading by as
much as 31-22 with 3:10 to go on Harpring's three-point play.

Phoenix tied it at 34 when Walter McCarty sank a 3-pointer with
40 seconds left, but that set off a 6-1 surge by Utah, forcing the
Suns to play catch-up again.

"With Amare stepping up like he did, that was big for us,"
Richardson said. "Sometimes teams come out warm, and you have to
weather the storm and just continue to play."

Game notes
Stoudemire's string of 11 straight 20-point games ended
when he scored nine Sunday in an overtime win at Golden State. ...
Suns G Jim Jackson did not suit up because of a sprained left foot.
... Nash set a franchise record with his second streak of at least
10 games with double-digit assists this season. ... The Suns are
12-3 in the second of back-to-back games. ... The Jazz fell to 6-20
on the road, losing 11 of the last 12.