Phoenix 100, Houston 91

HOUSTON, Jan. 17 (AP) -- The Phoenix Suns figured they'd have an easy time with the Houston Rockets, especially once they learned Tracy McGrady was out with a back injury.

But the Suns struggled most of the game and didn't secure their 11th straight victory until the final minutes.

Steve Nash had 21 points and 14 assists as Phoenix overcame an early 15-point deficit to beat the Rockets 100-91 Wednesday night.

"We weren't here mentally for the first quarter and a half and we didn't play great after that,'' said Nash, who also had six turnovers. "But we played good enough.''

Amare Stoudemire scored 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds for the Suns, who are 29-3 in their last 32 games. They became the second team in franchise history to have two winning streaks of more than 10 games in one season. The 1992-93 Suns had winning streaks of 14 and 11 games on their way to the NBA finals.

Rafer Alston matched a career high with 29 points to lead the depleted Rockets. McGrady, a six-time All-Star, sat out with stiffness in his lower back.

Injuries to McGrady and Yao Ming ruined last season, but the Rockets think they're better equipped to play without their two All-Stars this year.

"People's roles change,'' Alston said. "You might have a guy we need to set picks and rebound, but now we might need that guy to pump in 10 or 15 points. All of a sudden, you have to readjust your mind-set. You have to be up to the challenge.''

Shane Battier and Luther Head added 16 points apiece for Houston, which dropped to 1-9 with both McGrady and Yao out of the lineup. Yao is out until at least the end of February with a broken right leg.

The Suns, the league's highest-scoring team, committed 18 turnovers and struggled to find their usual offensive rhythm against the Rockets, the league's top defensive team. Phoenix missed 14 of its first 21 shots and trailed 28-19 after the opening quarter.

"It was a combination of us not being ready and Houston playing very well,'' Suns guard Raja Bell said. "It was a bad combination for us.''

The Suns finally took control with a 17-2 spurt in the third. The Rockets closed to 93-89 on Alston's drive with 3:55 left, but Leandro Barbosa hit a 3-pointer a minute later and Nash finished off the Rockets with a fadeaway in the lane with 1:24 to go.

The Suns were still disgusted with their performance.

"Houston played well and with a lot of energy,'' Bell said. "They took it right to us, even though they were undermanned. They gave us all we could handle.''

The Suns missed 10 straight shots before Barbosa's 3 with 9:30 left in the first half. Head answered with his third 3-pointer to put Houston up 31-23.

Nash returned after a rest, but the Suns continued to miss shots and cough up careless turnovers.

Little-used reserve guard John Lucas hit two mid-range jumpers and a 3-pointer from the corner during an 11-2 Rockets run that extended their lead to 42-27 midway through the second quarter.

Barbosa then hit three 3-pointers in two minutes during a 16-0 Phoenix run. Stoudemire scored from the baseline to give the Suns a 43-42 lead.

"They played at a high level and got our attention early,'' Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni said.

Battier and Head hit 3-pointers in the closing minute of the half to put the Rockets up 51-48 at the break.

The Rockets led 65-60 after Alston scored on a drive, but the Suns finally hit their stride after that, sparking the 17-2 spurt. Shawn Marion blocked a shot by Battier and heaved a long pass to Barbosa for a layup, then hit a 3-pointer from the corner give the Suns a 70-65 lead.

Marion had 14 points and 14 rebounds.

Alston hit a jumper from the top of the key, but a basket by Marion and a 3-pointer by James Jones stretched the Suns' lead to 10.

Bonzi Wells, who sat out the previous 10 games with a back injury, hit a mid-range jumper and scored on a drive to help Houston cut the deficit to 79-75 by the end of the third quarter.

Bell made a pair of 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter to push the Suns' lead to six. Despite the absence of McGrady and Yao, the Rockets stayed close to the end.

Alston and Nash traded 3-pointers before Alston scored on a baseline drive to keep the Rockets within four. But Barbosa's 3-pointer with 2:39 remaining extended the lead to 96-89, sending the Rockets on their way to their sixth straight loss to the Suns in Houston.

"We just have to be able to concentrate longer, but the level of passion is what kept us in the game,'' Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy said.

Notes: The Suns improved to 17-0 when they hold their opponent under 100 points. ... The Rockets dropped to 9-4 since Yao broke his leg in December. ... McGrady said before the game that he expects to be ready for Saturday's game against Denver.

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