<
>

Sizzling Suns win ninth straight

DENVER (AP) -- Quentin Richardson had his first shot blocked,
circled back into the lane and sneaked in between two defenders,
tipping Amare Stoudemire's missed shot with his left hand.

With that kind of effort, it's no wonder the Phoenix Suns are
off to the best start in franchise history.

Stoudemire had 32 points and nine rebounds, and Richardson
tipped in a putback attempt at the buzzer to help the Suns extend
their winning streak to nine games with a 107-105 victory over the
Denver Nuggets on Monday night.

"The game was like `Hamlet.' It was a suspense-thriller and I
killed them," Richardson said.

It's no surprise. Phoenix has been doing it all season.

One of the NBA's worst teams a year ago, the Suns have become
one of the best this season with balanced scoring and a
never-give-up attitude.

Richardson finished with 19 points and seven rebounds, Steve
Nash added 15 points and 10 assists and Phoenix shot 53 percent for
its second nine-game winning streak this season. The Suns have won
18 of 19 and eight straight on the road, one short of the team
record.

And at 22-3, the Suns are off to the NBA's best start since
Dallas had the same record with Nash at the point in 2002. Not bad
for a team that didn't get its 22nd win until March 15 last year.

"Phoenix is 22-3 for a reason," Nuggets coach Jeff Bzdelik
said. "They are a very good team."

The Nuggets played without starters Carmelo Anthony and Marcus
Camby, though it didn't appear to affect them offensively.

Andre Miller was aggressive from the start, finishing with 23
points and 11 assists, and Kenyon Martin bulled his way to 22
points and 11 rebounds. Nene did his part in place of Camby with 19
points, 10 rebounds and six assists, and Bryon Russell had 14
points for Denver, which shot 51 percent.

Where the Nuggets had trouble was on defense.

Without Camby there to erase shots, Denver gave the Suns plenty
of free runs down the lane and allowed 56 points in the paint in
losing for the fifth time in six games.

"The effort was good," Bzdelik said. "Short-handed, they
battled the hottest team in the league and came up short. We just
ran out of time, plain and simple."

The game was a shootout from the start, with little defense and
plenty of scoring.

Phoenix went up 103-101 on Nash's left-handed runner with 49
seconds left, but Denver quickly answered with Martin's running
hook to tie it. The Suns went back up with 22 seconds left when the
Nuggets doubled Nash and left Stoudemire wide open for a two-handed
dunk down the lane.

Denver tied it with Martin's hard drive, but couldn't keep the
Suns off the boards on the other end. Nene blocked Richardson's
first shot along the baseline, then Stoudemire was long on a
two-handed tip. Richardson bounced back into the play between two
Nuggets defenders and got his left hand on the ball, tipping it in
just before the buzzer sounded.

"I knew it was good, because when I came back down, the light
was still off," said Richardson, who was mobbed by teammates after
the shot. "That's why I went so crazy."

Anthony missed his second straight game with a sprained ankle,
then Camby was a last-minute scratch because of bronchitis.

Denver is at its best when it works the ball around for open
shots, and the Nuggets had it going in the first half, using crisp
passes for open jumpers and cuts down the lane. The Nuggets shot
12-of-20 in the first quarter and only cooled slightly in the
second, shooting 50 percent in the first half to lead 54-53.

But Camby's absence was clearly noticeable on the other end.

Phoenix had no trouble getting to the rim without Denver's best
defensive player in the paint, getting three of its first four
baskets on open drives and scoring 30 of its first-half points in
the lane to shoot 23-of-39.

"We took advantage of the situation that they were out," Suns
coach Mike D'Antoni. "Lucky for us, bad for them."

Game notes
Phoenix's Bo Outlaw had a lengthy but good-natured
discussion with a fan about traveling in the third quarter after
Martin switched pivot feet in the post. "That is a travel. Even in
the holiday season that's a travel," Outlaw said. ... Colorado
Rockies manager Clint Hurdle attended the game. ... Denver has
allowed 100 points in seven of its past nine games and 56 points in
the lane in five of six.