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Suns win fourth straight

PHOENIX (AP) -- Without two of their best players -- including the
NBA's leading scorer -- the Orlando Magic still managed to give the
Phoenix Suns a fight to the finish.

Two late powerhouse dunks by 20-year-old rookie Amare Stoudemire
made the difference as the Suns won their fourth in a row, 87-84
over the Magic on Monday night.

"I think the coach believes in me now," Stoudemire said.

The Magic were without Tracy McGrady (bruised back), the NBA's
scoring leader at 30.1 points per game, and Mike Miller (strep
throat). Coach Doc Rivers said he found out only minutes before the
game that both wouldn't play.

"We didn't know what we were going to do," Rivers said.

Given the team's personnel problems, Rivers decided to go with a
zone defense, and never left it.

"I think that might be the first time an NBA team played zone
the whole game," Orlando's Pat Garrity said.

Penny Hardaway had 16 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists for
Phoenix, which climbed four games above .500 for the first time
this season. Hardaway has had five career triple-doubles, most
recently Dec. 29, 2001.

All five Suns starters scored in double figures. Shawn Marion
had 19 points and 11 rebounds, Stephon Marbury added 12 points and
nine assists and Stoudemire had 15 points.

Garrity scored a season-high 21 points for Orlando, only six in
the second half. Jeryl Sasser added 14 points and 11 rebounds,
Grant Hill 11 and Darrell Armstrong 10.

"It was a valiant effort by our guys," Rivers said. "Man, I
was just proud of them."

Hill, Armstrong and Sasser were a combined 12-for-46 from the
field.

"We've had probably more games when we weren't at full strength
than we have games when we were at full strength," Hill said. "It
puts everybody in a tough situation but that's just the nature of
the business."

The Suns, coming off three straight road victories over Boston,
Philadelphia and Atlanta, fell behind by as many as 14 points in
the first half. Coach Frank Johnson said his team was guilty of
playing down to the level of the competition.

"There's no question about it. We've been doing that all year
long," Johnson said. "They basically came out and outhustled us,
and all of a sudden we were in a dogfight."

Hardaway fed Stoudemire for a stuff that put the Suns up for
good with 1:46 to play. Stoudemire was fouled on the play and made
the free throw to give Phoenix an 85-83 lead.

Armstrong made one of two free throws with 1:32 to go to cut the
lead to 85-84. Stoudemire tried to dunk but couldn't in traffic,
then grabbed the rebound and slammed it through to make it 87-84.
Shawn Kemp fouled the rookie, but Stoudemire missed the free throw.

"That guy right there, once he gets it within a foot of the
basket, you'd better watch out," Hardaway said of Stoudemire. "We
know that, and that's why we try to get him the ball in his comfort
zone. He's going to finish with the best of them, and he did that
two times in a row."

Orlando missed four 3-pointers after that, three on its last
possession -- by Hill, Garrity and Armstrong.

McGrady sat out the game after bruising his lower back in
Sunday's 104-87 loss to the Lakers in Los Angeles.

Still, the Magic went on a 10-2 run over the final 3 ½ minutes of
the first quarter to take a 28-18 lead and stretched it to 42-28 on
Ryan Humphrey's two free throws with 3:35 to go in the half.
Orlando led 51-43 at the break. Garrity was 3-for-4 from 3-point
range in the first half and 5-for-8 for the game.

Phoenix took its first lead since the game's opening minutes
with a 14-2 outburst to go up 54-53 on Hardaway's 20-footer with
8:02 to go in the third quarter. Casey Jacobsen sank a 3-pointer
and made two free throws in the final 40.6 seconds of the quarter
to give the Suns a 71-68 lead entering the fourth.

Game notes
The Magic have lost five road games in a row and five of
six overall. ... Phoenix goes back on the road for games at
Sacramento on Tuesday and the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday. ...
The Suns are 9-3 against the Eastern Conference and 10-3 at home.

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