LA Clippers 97, Phoenix 90

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 15 (AP) - A shooting slump is the last thing that's going to deter Sam Cassell. He's going to keep firing away as long as he's able.

Cassell scored 32 points against Phoenix on Tuesday night, and the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Suns 97-90 to knock them out of first place in the Western Conference.

The 38-year-old Cassell, who was 7-for-31 in his previous four games, made 15-of-21 shots to help the Clippers snap a four-game losing streak and win for just the second time in 12 games.

"I just made shots today,'' Cassell said. "I think the guys got me the ball and depended on me to make shots. I think that was the key.

"I've been taking shots I'm supposed to take, just missing them. I'm not going to stop. I'm a guy who understands how to score in this league, can score in this league.''

Cassell did more than just score, getting six rebounds and seven assists as well.

"Sam is a phenomenal player,'' Phoenix's Amare Stoudemire said. "He has the best short game in the league; short game meaning jumpers inside the 3-point line. Once he gets going, it's hard to stop him.''

Corey Maggette added 21 points, Cuttino Mobley scored 12 and Tim Thomas had 11 for the Clippers (11-23), who had lost 11 of their previous 12 home games. Chris Kaman shot 3-for-14 and scored nine points, but his 18 rebounds led Los Angeles to a 47-36 advantage in that department.

The Clippers were coming off their toughest loss of the season, a 95-94 setback to Dallas on Jerry Stackhouse's 3-pointer as time expired. Before that, they lost close games to San Antonio and Orlando, another pair of first-place teams.

But they had enough to beat the Suns (26-12), who had rallied from double-figure deficits for victories in three of their previous six games.

"The last two games were as good a basketball as we've played all year long,'' Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. "I just hope we can continue to play at this level.

"Sam was great, obviously he was on a roll shooting the ball.''

The Clippers shot 52.2 percent from the field against Dallas, the first time this season they finished at 50 percent or better. They followed that up with a 52.5 percent effort against the Suns while holding Phoenix to 40.7 percent.

"Our offense let us down and we couldn't stop Sam,'' Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said. "Give them credit, they defended well. Our offense, for whatever reason, just wasn't clicking at all, and we just didn't play well.''

Stoudemire led Phoenix with 29 points and eight rebounds. Raja Bell scored 15 points, Steve Nash added 14 points and 13 assists, and Shawn Marion had 14 points and 17 rebounds for the Suns, who fell a half-game behind the Los Angeles Lakers (26-11). Those teams meet Thursday night at Staples Center.

Nash scored seven points during a 12-4 run that cut the Clippers lead to 80-77 with 5:45 remaining. But that's as close as the Suns would get.

Cassell made three jumpers in a little over two minutes, and baskets by Kaman and Mobley made it 92-84 with 1:28 to play.

"We did a good job of just moving the ball and getting guys into position where we can take advantage of mismatches,'' Thomas said. "Sam had a huge game, and that was pretty much the difference.''

Cassell scored 10 points and Maggette added seven during a 21-8 run that put the Clippers on top 74-63 before Bell made a jumper to end the third period and draw the Suns within nine.

A three-point play by Thomas and two jumpers by Mobley gave Los Angeles a 39-31 lead early in the second quarter. The Clippers led 49-48 at halftime thanks mainly to a 55 percent shooting effort.

The Suns made their first five shots - three by Stoudemire and 3-pointers by Bell and Boris Diaw - for a quick 12-2 lead. Phoenix led 21-12 when Cassell got hot, scoring 10 points during a 16-7 run that gave the Clippers a 28-27 lead entering the second quarter.

Notes: The game matched the NBA's highest-scoring team in the Suns (110.3 points per game) and the lowest in the Clippers (92.6 points). ... The Suns had beaten the Clippers by an average of 15 points per game in their first three meetings this season. ... The Suns played their fourth game without F Grant Hill, who underwent an emergency appendectomy last Wednesday. Hill is expected to return to action sometime next week. ... Clippers G Guillermo Diaz made his NBA debut, going scoreless while playing nearly 5 1/2 minutes in the second quarter.

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