PHOENIX — As head coach Alvin Gentry has said all season, games against teams that you should beat are the important ones and wins against the upper-echelon teams of the NBA are only bonuses. Although the Suns were unable to capture that extra-credit game against the Lakers on Friday, they made up for it with a 120-106 victory victory over the injury-riddled New Orleans Hornets on Sunday night.
With the Western Conference as competitive as ever and only 15 games remaining for Phoenix, it is imperative that the Suns win games that they are supposed to, and tonight was one of those games.
“It was a must-win since this is a team we’re supposed to beat at home,” said Suns forward Jared Dudley, who finished with 13 points and three steals.
With the win the Suns leapfrogged past the San Antonio Spurs to capture sole possession of the No. 6 seed in the West. They now trail the Oklahoma City Thunder, who defeated the Utah Jazz tonight, by one game for the No. 5 spot.
After going for 29 and 16 against the Lake Show, Amare Stoudemire exploded for 30-plus — 36 points and 12 rebounds to be exact — for the seventh time since the All-Star break. STAT was dominant once again, and the Suns took care of business at home.
“I thought overall we played well,” Gentry said. “Amare did a great job finishing plays. When David West got two quick fouls we decided to try and attack him and they switched (Emeka) Okafor on him and we think that the quickness Amare had he was able to get behind him and do some good things.”
The Suns stung the Hornets in the first quarter, as they built an early 16-point lead. New Orleans, with only eight active players, couldn’t keep up with the Suns’ scorching pace, allowing 34 first-quarter points to Steve Nash and company. Nash, playing in his 1,000th career game, dissected the New Orleans defense for six first-quarter assists, helping the Suns knock down 15-for-22 (68.2 percent) in the first quarter.
They totaled 18 points in the paint during the first 12 minutes of play, mostly thanks to a slew of Robin Lopez tw0-handed slams and Stoudemire finishes inside. The Hornets, on the other hand, severely missed the offense of Peja Stojakovic and Chris Paul, as they shot 9-for-26 in the first.
Phoenix was in control for the majority of the half, until the Hornets made a push halfway through the second quarter. The Suns held a comfortable 41-28 lead, until the Hornets exploded for a 16-7 run to cut the deficit to four thanks to six second-quarter Suns turnovers. A deep three by Marcus Thornton with 0.5 seconds left in the half made it 55-49 Suns.
The pesky Hornets wouldn’t lay down to start the second half, as they opened up the third on an 8-0 run, taking a 57-55 lead. Gentry called a quick timeout, and the Suns responded with a 14-2 run of their own.
“I think the guys that were on the court did all the talking,” Stoudemire said of how the team reacted to the Hornets taking the lead. “As players we took it upon ourselves to turn it up a notch. Coach obviously wants us to step it up at all times for 48 minutes, but any time a team regains the lead, it’s up to the players to really step it up and do it on the basketball court.”
Stoudemire continued his dominance with 13 points in the third, and the Suns blew things open, as they led by as many as 14 in the quarter and ultimately cruised to their fourth victory in their last six games and their 15th in their last 20.
STAT, once again, was everywhere and reached the 30-point plateau with ease in less than 30 minutes of action. He posted only four 30-plus games before the All-Star break but has bounced back from trade rumors in a big way with his fourth 30-plus effort in his last five games. Over his last seven games Amare is averaging 30.7 points, 11.0 rebounds and 11.6 free-throw attempts.
“I’m back, I’m back,” Stoudemire said. “I’ve lost 28 pounds since training camp. I feel phenomenal. My explosiveness is back. My quickness is back. My IQ of the game, everything is back at 100 percent. I feel great.”
This was the type of game the Suns needed to take care of if they hope to move up in the Western Conference before the season’s end. They have a host of favorable matchups during their next five games, all at home, and taking care of the Hornets was the first step.
Getting to the No. 4 position and capturing home-court advantage will be a difficult feat, but seven of the Suns’ next nine opponents are under .500, and they also play Utah at home, whom the Suns are 1.5 games back of for that aforementioned No. 4 spot. The Suns are 20-9 this season against losing teams, so if they can take care of business like they did tonight, this is the perfect time for them to shoot up the standings.
“We’re now trying to get to the playoffs and have a nice little home stretch here and have the Timberwolves coming up and that’s a must win,” Dudley said. “We’re looking to move up from the seventh spot, and it’s really tight right now so you can’t slip up.”
- In his 1,000th career game Nash finished with 13 points and 12 assists. He received a standing ovation from the crowd when the milestone was announced. And Gentry gave him a few words as well: “I just said, ‘You know how old you have to be to play 1,000 games?’ He said, ‘Thanks.'”
- Jared Dudley recorded his third dunk of the season, causing the Suns’ bench to erupt with laughter and cheers. He finished the game with 13 points and three steals in 24 minutes, going 4-of-6 from the field.
- After missing the Lakers game due to suspension, Channing Frye scored only two points in 21 minutes on 1-for-4 shooting, but managed to grab five boards and dish out five assists.
- The Suns have bounced back from losses extremely well this season, as they are now 6-0 in their last six games following losses. The Suns have not lost back-t0-back games in 47 days.
- After taking a hard fall that saw his head bounce off the hardwood, Grant Hill was removed from the game and evaluated by team doctors for a concussion. Hill’s status for Tuesday’s game against Minnesota is still undetermined. “He’s got a mild concussion I think,” Gentry said. “I don’t know what the religious status is. He’s got a little bit of a headache, so we’ll just take tomorrow and see how that goes.”
- Jason Richardson finished with 20 points, moving the Suns to 21-4 when he scores 20 or more.