PHOENIX, March 28 (Ticker) --
Even without Amare Stoudemire
, the Phoenix
Suns still were able to deliver another message to the Denver
Playing without their leading scorer, the Suns relied on their
other offensive weapons in an entertaining 123-114 victory over
the Nuggets, who had a six-game winning streak snapped.
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In what may have been a preview of a possible first-round
playoff matchup, the Suns improved to 3-0 against the Nuggets,
who entered the contest as the NBA's hottest team. Denver has
won 14 of its last 16 games, but both losses have come against
"Hopefully this kills a bit of their confidence," said Suns
center Steven Hunter
, who made 6-of-7 shots and scored 14 points
in Stoudemire's place. "I was talking to (Andre) Miller after
the game and he said he hopes they play us in the first round
and my question was, 'Why? We beat you three times and tonight
we beat you without one of the best players in the league.' I
didn't get an answer."
Stoudemire, the Suns' All-Star center, sat out with a left ankle
injury, but backcourt tandem of Steve Nash
and Joe Johnson
than picked up the slack, especially in the fourth quarter.
After Earl Boykins'
layup with 5:45 remaining gave the Nuggets
their biggest lead at 107-102, Johnson and Nash combined for the
first 13 points in an 18-3 run as the Suns took over down the
stretch, looking very much like a team fighting for the NBA's
Johnson drilled a jumper and 3-pointer 40 seconds apart, tying
the game at 107-107 with 4:50 left. After Carmelo Anthony's
layup put Denver in front, Nash hit a jumper and Johnson
converted a three-point play with 3:43 to go, giving Phoenix the
lead for good.
"I feel real confident with the ball in my hand and wanted to be
aggressive," said Johnson, who made 9-of-16 shots. "I was
really taking it upon myself. They backed down and gave me my
shot and taking it when I was there."
"We had the game, then Joe Johnson
was like the quiet assassin
out there," Anthony said. "He had like nine straight points and
put his team on his back tonight."
had 30 points and 14 rebounds and Nash and Johnson
each scored 23 points for the Suns (53-17), who moved one game
ahead of San Antonio for the Western Conference's best record
and one-half game in front of Miami for the league's top mark.
"It was a little different out there without Amare," said
Marion, who went 11-of-16 from the floor. "Everybody had to step
up a notch and we did that. Most of the stuff that he (Amare)
gets I was getting tonight, like transition. Tonight I got the
chance to run the floor and took advantage of it."
Anthony scored 22 points to pace seven players in double figures
for Denver, which fell to 22-6 under coach George Karl
, who was
ejected with 42 seconds remaining after picking up a pair of
"We didn't lose the game because of refereeing, we got beat by a
team that is playing really well," Karl said. "The consistency
is frustrating. We got hit on our arms a lot. I snapped at the
end because of the touch foul on Nash ended the game rather
then letting the game end itself."
"We squandered some points in the first half, we had some mental
breakdowns," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni
said. "In the fourth
quarter we just beat them up. This is what it's going to take;
our attitude and just be tougher."
Denver (38-31), which would meet Phoenix in the first round of
the playoffs if the season ended Monday, is two games ahead of
Minnesota for the Western Conference's final postseason berth.
"Whoever we play, we play," D'Antoni said. "I could make a case
of every team we want (to play) and every team we don't want.
It's just about the Suns. If we play well, that is all we have
to worry about."
scored 14 points to lead a strong bench effort for
the Nuggets, who played without starting forward Kenyon Martin
(chest). Denver's bench outscored Phoenix's reserves, 49-20.
added 14 points for Phoenix, which shot 55
percent (44-of-80) and made 10-of-22 3-pointers. Denver shot 48
percent (44-of-92), including 9-of-19 from the arc.