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Nash outduels Kidd as Suns set on Nets

PHOENIX (AP) -- The Phoenix Suns are finding out they can rely on
more than Steve Nash and Shawn Marion.

In each of the first 11 games of the season, Nash led the team
in assists and Marion was the top rebounder. Neither led in his
specialty Friday night, yet the Suns beat New Jersey 92-81, handing
the Nets their 12th straight loss at America West Arena.

Nash scored 27 points and Kurt Thomas had a season-high 19
rebounds, while Boris Diaw contributed a season-best nine assists.

It was the third consecutive victory for the Suns and the third
straight game they held an opponent under 90 points -- the first
time they have done that since the 2002-03 season. New Jersey's
point total was the lowest allowed by the Suns this season and the
fifth straight game Phoenix held an opponent under 100 points.

"We're not out to score 120 points every night," Nash said.

Last season, the Suns led the NBA in scoring, averaging 110.4
points per game, and were the worst defensive team, allowing 103.3
points per game. This season, their scoring is down but their
defense is vastly improved.

"Our defense was awesome," Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni said.

Nash, who added six assists, also used the word "awesome" in
describing Thomas' rebounding performance.

"Kurt was great," he added. "He gives us a presence and
toughness under the boards."

Thomas, who has been struggling with his shot, said, "I have
been focusing on my rebounding. It's been a tough year. My
teammates have been supporting me all the way."

The Suns' fourth win in five games boosted them two games over
.500 (7-5) for the first time this season. It also was their third
consecutive win at home after a 1-4 start.

The Nets, in the midst of a five-game road trip, dropped their
third in a row and fell to 5-7.

Raja Bell added 13 points for Phoenix, Marion had 12 and James
Jones and Diaw each scored 10.

Jason Kidd led the Nets with 25 points, Vince Carter scored 23
and Richard Jefferson had 16.

"I think our defensive intensity was the difference," Nets
coach Lawrence Frank said. "During the second quarter, it wasn't
very good. We also hurt ourselves on the offensive end."

Kidd was proud of his team, which cut a 20-point deficit to four
early in the fourth quarter.

"But we couldn't get any closer," he said. "Every time we
made a run, they answered."

The Suns, exhibiting the tough, resilient defense they have
displayed recently, held the Nets to five field goals in 21
attempts in the second period in building a 20-point and held a
44-30 advantage at halftime.

During one span bridging the first and second quarters, the Nets
went 6:35 without a basket and 5:44 without a point, and Phoenix
outscored them 22-6.

Only Carter, Jefferson and Kidd had any success against
Phoenix's tight man-to-man defense, combining for all but two of
the Nets' points in the first half.

Meanwhile, Nash had 11 points at the break, but instead of being
the orchestrator of the Suns' offense, as he usually is, it was the
6-foot-8 Diaw. Playing the center position, the versatile Diaw had
six assists, along with four rebounds. His replacement, Thomas,
contributed nine rebounds.

For the half, the disorganized Nets shot 29 percent (12-for-41).
Phoenix was 19-for-44 (43 percent), including five 3-pointers.

The Nets found their shooting touch in the third period, hitting
13 of 19 shots to get within 70-64, the closest they had been since
late in the first quarter. Their 34 points in the period were four
more than they scored in the entire first half.

Game notes
The last time the Nets won at America West Arena was March
13, 1993 -- their first trip to AWA, beating the Suns 124-93. ...
Kidd is the leader among active players in triple doubles with 68.
... This was the start of a five-game homestand for the Suns, who
by the end of the stretch will have played 12 home games and only
four on the road. ... Both Carter (sprained back) and Jason Collins
(inflamed nerve in right leg) sat out the Nets' game Wednesday
against Sacramento, but returned to the starting lineup Friday. ...
Diaw had only one double-double in two seasons with Atlanta, but
already has two in 12 games with Phoenix. ... Arizona basketball
coach Lute Olsen was a courtside spectator.