<
>

Phoenix gets home court throughout playoffs

PHOENIX (AP) -- The Phoenix Suns are putting a wrap on a
remarkable regular season the same way they started it -- running,
shooting and scoring like nobody else in the NBA.

The Suns clinched homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs
before the first quarter against Denver ended on Monday night, then
went on to blow out the Nuggets 128-114.

Joe Johnson scored 18 of his 26 points in a 44-point first
quarter that showcased the Suns at their high-flying best. Phoenix
shot 71 percent (17-for-24) in the quarter to take a 19-point lead.

"Joe just killed them," Phoenix guard Steve Nash said. "He
got open and was just nailing 3s. There are so many weapons on our
team, when a perimeter shooter makes shots like that, the finishers
we have inside are very difficult to contend with."

The Nuggets trailed 75-57 at halftime and the Nuggets didn't get
closer than 12 points after that, and that came in the final minute
of the Suns' fifth straight victory.

"The way we lost tonight was embarrassing," Denver forward
Carmelo Anthony said. "Seventy-five points in the first half,
that's a little bit too much."

It was a win Phoenix didn't need to clinch the best record in
the NBA, and the resulting homecourt postseason edge, because San
Antonio lost at Memphis in a game that ended just when Suns'
onslaught was gaining steam.

"Now we got it," Shawn Marion of the Suns said, "let's see
what we do with it."

Amare Stoudemire scored 26 points, Marion had 18 and Quentin
Richardson 16 in the Suns' 62nd victory of the season, tying the
franchise record set by the 1992-93 team that made it to the NBA
Finals. Nash had eight points and 13 assists, eight in the first
quarter.

Johnson made his first six shots and was 7-for-8 in the first
quarter, 4-of-5 from 3-point range.

"That might be one of my best quarters," Johnson said. "It
was a lot of fun, I have to admit. My shot was falling, and guys
were finding me. We had 44 points in the first quarter. You
couldn't ask for too much better than that."

Suns coach Mike D'Antoni couldn't find anything to criticize in
the first half.

"I don't think we can play any better than that," he said.
"You'd have to ask Joe if he can play any better than that. I
mean, it was mind-boggling. And the rest of them -- Steve Nash takes
two shots and hits two 3s. We came out and really took care of
business. I just feel like we're getting our energy and our focus
back at a good time."

Nash and Marion sat out the entire fourth quarter for the second
straight game. Stoudemire left with 10 minutes to play and Johnson
with 8½ to go.

Anthony scored 33 points, Kenyon Martin had 22 and Andre Miller
17 for the Nuggets, 24-4 since the All-Star break with three of the
losses to Phoenix. They have lost two straight for the first time
since George Karl became coach on Jan. 28.

"We didn't take anything that they do well away from them,"
Karl said, "thinking maybe we can outrun and outshoot them, which
personally I don't think is a way we should try to play Phoenix."

The Nuggets were without Marcus Camby for the second straight
game. He was placed on the injured list Monday so Denver could
activate Vashon Lenard for the first time since he tore his left
Achilles' tendon in the season opener on Nov. 2. Lenard scored 14
points in 17 minutes.

The loss cemented Denver in the No. 7 spot in the Western
Conference and a first-round series against San Antonio. Phoenix
plays Memphis in the first round.

With about 2 minutes left in the first quarter, D'Antoni asked
reporters on press row how the San Antonio-Memphis game came out.
When told Memphis had won, he smiled and said, "I guess I can go
sit down now."

He was kidding. D'Antoni was on his feet throughout the team's
31st home victory.

The Suns' 44 first-quarter points and 75 at halftime were a
season high.

Phoenix outscored Denver 18-4 over the last 3:04 of the first
quarter and first 2:29 of the second to go up 52-27 on Steven
Hunter's layup with 9:59 left in the half.

Phoenix had a 16-3 advantage in fastbreak points in the period.
Anthony scored 18 of his team's 25 first-quarter points.

Game notes
Phoenix's highest-scoring quarter this season is 46 in the
third at Toronto on Jan. 30. ... The Suns sold out at home for the
26th time this season, 22nd in their last 25 games. Last season,
they had six home sellouts. ... Phoenix swept the Nuggets (4-0) for
the first time in four years. ... If Denver wins at home against
Portland on Tuesday night, it will have its first 50-win season
since 1987-88.