Phoenix matches victory total from last season

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- On a team with Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion
and Steve Nash in the starting lineup, Joe Johnson often gets lost
in the shuffle.

Johnson has started every game for the Phoenix Suns, but his 23
points in a 108-91 rout of the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday
night was only the fourth time this season he has led the team in

Johnson made 10 of 15 shots to help the Suns match their victory
total for last season after just 33 games.

"Sometimes guys forget about Joe, but I think he is one of the
most multitalented guys on the team," said starter Quentin
Richardson, who had 19 points. "We've got a lot of guys who can
step up at any time."

Marion had 22 points and 11 rebounds for the Suns, who have won
five straight and 25 of 27. They lead the league with a 29-4
record, the best start in the franchise's 37-year history. Last
season Phoenix went 29-53, its third-worst mark.

The Clippers, who had held their previous nine opponents under
100 points, were buried early by a run-and-gun offense that entered
averaging a league-leading 109.3. Nash finished with 10 points and
10 assists.

"I don't know whether our offense intimidates the other team or
not, but we have confidence in ourselves and in each other,"
Richardson said. "Every game, we feel like we can win. That's a
tribute to our working hard and meshing very quickly as a team.
We've got five guys out there who can score, as well as other guys
on the bench."

Bobby Simmons has 22 points and 11 rebounds for the Clippers,
who have lost six of their last seven against the Suns at Staples

"They are the most complete team in the league," Simmons said.
"Nash does a great job. He knows where everybody is on the floor
and he makes plays for them."

Beginning a stretch of four games in five nights, the Suns never
trailed. They scored the last 13 points of the first quarter,
opening up a 33-14 lead they extended to as many as 23 points with
9:11 left in the second quarter on Richardson's third 3-pointer in
a 57-second span.

"I don't think we gave them a chance to get back one time,"
Johnson said. "We were just pushing. We played good defense and
that opened up the game for us. In the second half we didn't want
then to make any runs, so we came out aggressive and kind of took
the life out of them."

The Suns, who had 15 3-pointers in Wednesday's 108-98 win at
Houston, were 12-for-26 from behind the arc against the Clippers.

"They shot the ball incredibly well," Clippers coach Mike
Dunleavy said. "They beat us by 33 points from the 3-point line.
You cannot say much more than that."

Los Angeles gradually trimmed a 69-46 halftime deficit to 102-88
on Zeljko Rebraca's short hook shot with 4:28 to play, but the Suns
scored the next six points to restore their 20-point margin with
2:12 left.

Kerry Kittles, activated Saturday by the Clippers when starting
point guard Marko Jaric was placed on the injured list, had two
points in 16 minutes and was 1-for-4 from the field. The eight-year
veteran, who came to them in a trade with New Jersey, missed the
previous nine games because of a bulging disc in his lower back.

Richardson, who left the Clippers as a free agent to sign with
the Suns, got angry at Simmons after getting fouled in mid-air on
an attempted baseline jumper and crashed to the floor with 7:25
left in the first quarter. Richardson had to be restrained, but
continued jawing at the Clippers bench at the other end of the
court before making both free throws.

"I didn't like it. I felt it was a little unnecessary,"
Richardson said.

Suns reserve guard Leandro Barbosa returned after a sitting out
three games with chicken pox and had two points in 10 minutes.

Game notes
The other three times Johnson led the Suns in scoring, he
had 30 against Utah, 25 against the Lakers and 24 against Seattle --
all victories. ... This was the sixth time this season that Corey
Maggette missed at least 10 field goal attempts. He was 6-for-18
and scored 15 points. ... The game originally was scheduled as a
matinee. But since the Kings weren't using the building due to the
NHL lockout, the Clippers moved their game to prime time. ... The
Suns need to go just 21-28 the rest of the way to become the fourth
team in four years to lose 50 games one season and win 50 the next.
... This is only the third time in the Suns' history that they have
won their first four games of a calendar year. They started 1995 at
5-0 and 1989 at 4-0. Phoenix lost its first six games in 2004. ...
Jaric has a stress fracture in his right foot, which is expected to
keep him sidelined at least another three weeks. ... The Clippers
are 0-7 when they allow at least 100 points, and 16-9 when they
don't. ... The Suns, who shot 48.8 percent from the field, are 25-1
when they shoot at least 45 percent. ... Phoenix won only one more
game last season than the Clippers.

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