Phoenix 125, Denver 108 (F)

PHOENIX, March 30 (AP)-- After the Phoenix Suns had run past the Denver Nuggets, Shawn Marion slipped into some ripped and worn jeans.

The outfit seemed appropriate, since Marion had ripped and torn apart the Nuggets.

The All-Star forward snapped out of a prolonged shooting slump with 33 points, and the Suns overcame an 18-point deficit to beat the Nuggets 125-108 Friday night.

The victory avenged the Suns' 131-107 loss at Denver on March 17 and kept Phoenix two games ahead of San Antonio for second place in the Western Conference. It also gave the Suns 54 wins, matching their total of last season.

Marion connected on 13-of-17 shots, scoring more than 20 points for the first time since Feb. 27 against Indiana, his most points in a non-overtime game and his most since scoring 33 at New Jersey in a double-overtime victory Dec. 7.

He also grabbed nine rebounds and blocked two shots, tying Alvan Adams for third place on the Suns' career list of blocks with 808.

"It's the first time in a long while that I've touched the ball a lot and gotten into the offensive flow,'' Marion said, after ending a 12-game drought without a 20-point game. "You can't score without the ball. Everybody was making a big hoopla over it (his recent lack of scoring). I got some good looks tonight. It's definitely a plus when I can get involved.''

Leandro Barbosa and Raja Bell each scored 19 points for Phoenix, Steve Nash had 18 points and 11 assists, and Kurt Thomas, making a rare start, had 10 rebounds.

"The way Shawn plays is the result of the way we play as a team,'' Bell said. "I don't think it's Shawn not playing well as much as it's been us not playing the way we need to play for Shawn to be effective.''

Suns coach Mike D'Antoni was elated to see Marion finally break out of his slump.

"If he supplies the energy we'll supply the possibilities on the floor,'' D'Antoni said. "He was 33 and nine and that's Shawn Marion. That's how he has always been and that is how he needs to be.''

Carmelo Anthony led Denver with 32 points and 10 rebounds, but was hobbling late in the game with an apparent ankle injury.

"I don't want to make an evaluation right now but tomorrow I'll see how it feels,'' he said.

Allen Iverson scored 26 points, Nene added 18 points and nine rebounds, and Marcus Camby finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds.

"They are a team with a lot of firepower,'' Camby said. "We knew the game wasn't over, especially when they're on their home court. They're very explosive. They came back in the second half and picked us apart and got whatever they wanted.''

The matchup could have been a preview of the opening round of the playoffs. If the season ended now, the teams would open the postseason at Phoenix, with the Suns facing the seventh-seeded Nuggets.

After scoring 11 points in the first half, Marion got rolling in the third period, hitting all six of his field goal attempts and scoring 14 points. During a stretch covering the second through fourth quarters, he connected on nine straight shots.

Marion's eight straight points within a 50-second span midway through the third quarter gave the Suns the lead for good, 78-73. Denver never got closer than three points after that.

Iverson scored 19 points and Anthony had 17, including a desperation 28-foot 3-point bank shot with the shot clock expiring in the second period, as the Nuggets twice bolted to 18-point leads, the last at 51-33. They settled for a 65-60 halftime advantage.

Denver began building its big early lead by outscoring the Suns 15-2 in a 3:04 span of the first period, pulling ahead 30-20. Iverson led that burst with six points, while Nene had five and Anthony four.

Phoenix closed the gap with a 15-6 spurt ending the first half, with Nash and Barbosa connecting on 3s.

The game got chippy, with Bell being charged with a flagrant foul after tripping Linas Kleiza on a drive to the basket with 3:27 gone in the second period and Marion fouling Camby hard on a jump shot with 3:05 left in the quarter.

Notes: Denver is trying to make the playoffs for the fourth straight year, something the Nuggets haven't done since current assistant coach Doug Moe took them to nine postseason appearances in a row from 1981-90. ... The Suns are the only team that has kept Iverson under an average of 25 points. In 15 games, going into Friday's contest, he was averaging 21.5. ... Nuggets forward Eduardo Najera returned to action after missing three games with a bruised left leg. ... The Suns had won each of their previous three home games by 18 points, against Minnesota, Sacramento and Memphis. ... Arizona State's women's basketball team, which reached the final eight of the NCAA tournament, sat courtside.

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