Suns knock Mavericks out of West's No. 1 spot

PHOENIX (AP) -- With a week to go in the regular season, the
young Phoenix Suns are bursting with confidence and energy. The
Dallas Mavericks are worn out and seemingly resigned to giving up
the Midwest Division title.

Penny Hardaway got his first triple-double in 1½ years and Shawn
Marion had 31 points and 15 rebounds Wednesday night as the Suns
widened their lead for the West's final playoff berth with a 112-89
rout of Dallas.

"We're hungry. We're starving. We want it bad,'' Phoenix's
Stephon Marbury said. "I don't know about those other teams, but
we want it bad. We want it real bad.''

Dallas, coming off a 108-99 loss to the Lakers in Los Angeles on
Tuesday night, lost for the third time in four games to drop one
game behind San Antonio for the Midwest Division lead and the No. 1
spot in the playoffs.

It's the first time the Mavericks have not been at least tied
for the division lead all season, and coach Don Nelson sounded as
if he was conceding the division title to the Spurs.

"I thought for us to have a chance we'd have to win two out of
three on this road trip,'' Nelson said. "We've already lost the
first two and it's not going to be an easy game day after tomorrow
(at Utah). Nothing's easy at this point. We were a tired team

If Dallas doesn't catch San Antonio, the Mavericks could face a
first-round matchup against the three-time defending champion

"We've got to get a mindset to start playing good basketball
going into the playoffs,'' Nick Van Exel said. "No matter who we
play, it's going to be tough for us the way we're playing right

Dallas is 6-5 since Michael Finley went out with a strained left
hamstring. Nelson said Finley might be ready to play by Sunday.

"He had a good day yesterday, not so good today,'' Nelson said.
"We'll just have to see how it goes. Dirk (Nowitzki) and Steve
(Nash) and Nick, they're tired, and I don't have anyplace else to
get that kind of production.''

Hardaway had 10 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds for his sixth
career triple-double and third with Phoenix. His last was against
Denver on Dec. 29, 2001.

"Triple-doubles are hard to come by. You don't see a lot of
them,'' Hardaway said. "They're rare, so I'm proud. No matter how
I got it. And we won. We're catching a rhythm right now. We're
clicking at the right time.''

Phoenix won for the fourth time in five games -- the only loss
was at the Lakers in overtime -- and increased its lead over Houston
for the West's eighth and final playoff spot to 2½ games with four
to play. The Rockets lost at Utah 94-73 and have just three games

"I have to say we are playing probably our best basketball,
offensively and defensively,'' Suns coach Frank Johnson said. "I
feel we have a very nice offensive rhythm now, where everyone is
touching the ball. We're getting great ball movement. We aren't
relying on one guy. We're playing so unselfish.''

The Suns never trailed, shot 51 percent and, for the first time
this season, had six players in double figures, including all five
starters. Marbury scored 20 points, Amare Stoudemire 17 and Joe
Johnson 14. Bo Outlaw, who started at center, scored 11 before
getting an elbow to the face from Raef LaFrentz with 7:02 left in
the third quarter. He had a bruised left jaw and a cut on his left
cheek that required three stitches.

Nowitzki scored 26 points and Van Exel 22 for the Mavericks, who
had no one else in double figures.

Marion scored 11 points and the Suns shot 63 percent (15-for-23)
in the first quarter, outscoring the Mavs 14-5 over the final 3:21
of the period to take a 36-25 lead.

Van Exel scored seven in a 10-3 Dallas run that cut the lead to
43-39 on his 19-footer with 6:35 left in the half. But the Suns
outscored the Mavericks 14-5 the rest of the quarter to go up 57-43
at the break.

The run-and-gun Mavs had no fast-break points in the first half.

Phoenix twice led by as many as 17 in the third quarter before
Van Exel scored 10 consecutive Mavericks points, the first six on
3-pointers, to cut the lead to 74-62 with four minutes to go in the
period. Dallas never got closer.

Game notes
Dallas plays at San Antonio in its regular-season finale
next Wednesday. ... Stoudemire was coming off a three-point,
five-rebound game at Denver. ... The Suns split their season series
with Dallas 2-2, each team winning on its home court. ... Phoenix
is 10-3 at home against the seven Western Conference teams that
have qualified for the playoffs.


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