<
>

Phoenix remains a game ahead of San Antonio

PHOENIX (AP) -- The Phoenix Suns have developed a habit of moving
their game into high gear only when they need it. It worked again
Tuesday night against the lowly New Orleans Hornets.

Amare Stoudemire made 15 of 16 free throws and scored 27 points,
and the Suns snapped out of their lethargy to dominate the fourth
quarter in a 99-85 victory.

Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni could only shrug about watching
another near disaster turn to a comfortable win.

"We're in a little funk right now, but we took care of
business," he said. "We've got four games against good teams to
end the season to try to get us on a little bit of a roll, and you
know, everything's good in paradise."

Jim Jackson, starting in place of injured Quentin Richardson and
coming off a season-high 25 points at the Los Angeles Lakers on
Monday night, was 6-of-7 from 3-point range and scored 20 points.
Shawn Marion added 18 points and 17 rebounds for the Suns, who at
59-19 stayed one game ahead of San Antonio for the best record in
the NBA and homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs.

"You're talking about a team that has won 59 games for a
reason," Hornets coach Byron Scott said. "They know when the game
is on the line and what to do."

Steve Nash had only six points, but handed out 13 assists for
the Suns, playing their fourth game in five nights.

"I think we're a tired team, and we certainly didn't get up for
this game," Nash said. "It was a difficult game, and they came
out and did a good job. Fortunately, we're more talented."

The 59 victories ties the Suns' second-best total in franchise
history, accomplished in 1994-95. The victory made Phoenix only the
fourth team in NBA history to accomplish a 30-game turnaround from
the previous season.

"What they've done is remarkable," D'Antoni said, "but we
have higher goals. We started off by trying to make the playoffs.
Now all of a sudden we're talking franchise-best record and we're
talking championships. It takes another gear up. We've got to ramp
it up a little bit, and I think we will."

J.R. Smith scored 23 points for New Orleans, while Dan Dickau
added 13 and Lee Nailon had 10. P.J. Brown had 10 points and 15
rebounds, but was just 4-of-13 from the field before fouling out in
the final minute.

The Suns sleepwalked through most of the first three quarters
and were down 77-73 after the Hornets scored the first four points
of the final quarter, the last on Smith's 20-footer with 10:55 to
play.

But Phoenix turned it on, outscoring New Orleans 26-8 the rest
of the way. Stoudemire, bothered by foul trouble for the third
straight game, scored 11 points in the late surge.

"I decided to step it up a notch in the fourth quarter,"
Stoudemire said, "because the game wasn't going too well for us in
the first three quarters. I got into a little bit of foul trouble
again, which I wasn't too happy about, but I was able to get back
in there and make a difference."

After going 2-for-7 at the free throw line Monday night,
Stoudemire made his first 15 Tuesday before missing one in the
final minute.

A night after making a franchise-record 19 3-pointers, the Suns
were 13-for-27 from beyond the arc against New Orleans.

Smith gave all the credit to Nash.

"He's just the best I've seen, man," Smith said. "He kicks it
to his teammates. He knows his teammates better than they know
themselves. I think it's just all about that point guard."

Richardson sat out the game with a sprained left ankle, an
injury that occurred early in Monday night's game. In Richardson's
place, Jackson made his first six 3-pointers and finished 7-for-9
overall from the field.

Johnson started the decisive surge with two free throws, then
Marion made a 3-pointer. The run reached 15-2 on Marion's dunk from
Stoudemire with 3:20 to go, putting Phoenix ahead 88-79.

The Suns led 54-48 at halftime, but New Orleans outscored
Phoenix 16-4 to start the second half to go up 64-58 with 6:59 left
in the third.

As they often do, the Suns stayed in the game with 3-pointers.
Jackson made three in a row from long range, then Marion hit a
15-footer from the baseline to tie it at 69 with 3:29 left in the
third.

Game notes
The Suns must win their remaining four games to have the
best record in franchise history. ... Johnson is the only Phoenix
player to appear in all 78 games. ... The Suns expect Richardson
back for Friday's game against the Los Angeles Clippers. ... The
Hornets had won three straight on the road.