Phoenix Suns 106, Cleveland Cavaliers 98 -- Moving on up

Marcin Gortat tied his career high in points Wednesday with 16. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Two down, three to go.

The Phoenix Suns avoided the proverbial letdown game Wednesday by defeating the worst team in the Eastern Conference, 106-98, for the team’s fourth consecutive victory.

The Suns defeated the Knicks on Monday to begin their five-game East Coast swing.

Phoenix led by as much as 17 but let the shorthanded Cavaliers sneak back into the game in the fourth quarter before pulling away late.

“Our offense was really good as far as spacing the floor and spreading it out,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry told Suns.com. “I thought, in the fourth quarter, we got a little bogged down and we started being in too many isolation situations. We’re not really an iso team, we’ve got to have ball movement and people movement.”

Steve Nash had his 23rd double-double of the season with 15 points and assists apiece.

Grant Hill was the main reason for the victory, as he led the team with 27 points and 12 rebounds.

“I feel fresher and the rest of my body, before tonight, felt really good,” Hill said. “Maybe if there is a lockout, I can play in Europe once a week. I might be able to excel over there.”

Even though Robin Lopez started, Marcin Gortat played 27 minutes, 16 more than Lopez. The Polish Hammer tied his career high with 16 points and added 12 rebounds.

It might be only a matter of time now before Gortat makes his way into the starting lineup

Phoenix was down early but went on a 14-0 run in the first quarter to take a lead it would not surrender the rest of the way. The Suns shot 57 percent in the opening frame, scoring 36 points aided by seven layups.

The second quarter was much of the same. After Phoenix took Cleveland’s initial blow, the Cavaliers seemed to lie down a bit.

Nash had 10 assists at halftime. Hill and Channing Frye led the way in scoring in the first half with 14 and 15 points, respectively.

Phoenix outscored Cleveland 27-14 on bench points in the first two quarters as well. Coincidentally, that 13-point margin was the same amount the Suns led by at the break.

All of those offensive performances allowed Phoenix to grab a 62-49 led at the midway point. Wednesday marked the second consecutive game the Suns scored at least 60 points in the first half.

The Suns had an 11-0 run in the third quarter before Manny Harris drilled a three. Phoenix immediately answered back with a Gortat layup delivered from Nash to put the team up 85-69.

The Suns have struggled mightily at times in the third quarter this season, but that did not seem to be a problem Wednesday. Phoenix just cruised right on through to a lackadaisical 28-point quarter.

It was tough sledding for the second unit early in the final frame, Nash had to re-enter the game earlier than he normally does as the Suns missed their first eight shots of the fourth quarter before Nash gave Hakim Warrick an easy layup.

Unfortunately for Phoenix, the Cavaliers answered right back.

Coming off a 9-0 run to get within single digits, Cleveland made back-to-back three-pointers to cut the Suns’ lead to three.

Hill stopped the bleeding on the next possession by sinking a mid-range jumper as the shot clock expired. The veteran was clutch all night when Phoenix needed him the most.

Vince Carter missed his first five shots and didn’t get on the board until he he drilled a three from the corner with less than three minutes remaining in regulation.

“We won, that’s all that matters; Grant was rolling, so why not give him the ball?” Vince Carter asked. “We were getting shots in transition and [Hill] was doing everything. He played the entire second half because he was playing so well for us. You can’t not go to him.”

Despite his offensive struggles, Carter was still plus-13 while on the court, second highest of any Sun behind Gortat’s plus-24.

Cleveland tried to get back in the game, but the Suns were nearly perfect from the free-throw line (20-of-21) and cruised through the final few minutes of the game to another victory.

One negative from Wednesday was that the Suns failed to put away the Cavaliers earlier in the game. The starters could have been rested to help for the remaining games on the road trip but the team was forced to play hard through the majority of the fourth quarter instead.

With the win, the Suns remain just one game back of Portland in the loss column for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.

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