To the nines: Suns top Knicks to extend hot streak

PHOENIX (AP) -- The Phoenix Suns have shown they can win pretty. Friday night, they also showed they could win ugly.

They set up a showdown against the Clippers for first place in the NBA's Pacific Division at Los Angeles on Saturday night by beating the New York Knicks 85-81, led by Steve Nash's 19 points and Raja Bell's 17.

Despite posting their lowest total in a victory in three years, the Suns managed to win their ninth consecutive game, the most by an NBA team this season. In their previous two games, the Suns had scored 130 and 118 points.

The win, Phoenix's eighth in a row at home, lifted the Suns into a tie with the idle Clippers at 13-5.

Reserve Eddie House added 15 points for the Suns, Shawn Marion
scored 14 points and had 10 rebounds, Boris Diaw had 10 points and Kurt Thomas grabbed 12 rebounds.

Afterward, the Suns were anxiously looking forward to their key early-season matchup against the Clippers.

"They're playing well," Marion said. "They're waiting for us. We've got to go out and get them early."

Added House: "Tomorrow is important. We're trying to get to first place. It means a lot."

Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni credited House with another "save," his fourth of the season.

"He came in and had 15 points in 14½ minutes. ... Not too bad," D'Antoni said.

D'Antoni acknowledged, however, that the Suns played a subpar game.

"The good thing is that we didn't play well, we didn't shoot well, we didn't get to the foul line and we still won," he said. "They [the Knicks] are a team that will slow you down.

"Now, we have to go after the Clippers," he said.

Ex-Suns guard Stephon Marbury topped the Knicks with 28 points, rookie Nate Robinson had 14 and Eddy Curry scored 11.

The Suns, the league's No. 1 scoring team with an average of 105.8 points per game entering the contest, failed to hit a field goal after Bell connected on a 3-pointer with 6:22 remaining. Their last five points came on free throws.

Marbury credited House for the Suns' win.

"He came off the bench and gave them a big boost," Marbury said. "He played really well. He was the guy who made the difference."

This was the Suns' fourth straight win over New York, the first time they have accomplished that feat since beating the Knicks four in a row from Dec. 2, 1986, to Jan. 27, 1989.

"For as much as we went inside tonight, I would have liked to see us get to the free-throw line [more]," Knicks coach Larry Brown said. "That would have been nice, but hey, they made the plays. We gave up a lead in the second quarter when we had control. We turned the ball over too much. They have a lot of people ... who have made contributions and that's why they've won nine in a row."

Phoenix ended the first half with a flourish, scoring the final 12 points in 3:01, and took a 46-44 lead after trailing by as many as 12 points in the second period. Nash, who had 13 points in the half, capped the spurt with a 3-pointer. Overall, Nash hit 5-of-6 shots, including all three 3-point attempts. New York helped Phoenix's comeback by committing 10 turnovers in the second period.

The Suns' burst was similar to the run the Knicks had closing the first quarter, when Marbury scored the final eight points for a 29-22 New York lead. Marbury finished the first quarter with 14 points but was held to two in the second period.

Oddly, the Suns did not shoot a foul shot in the opening half and the Knicks did not have a fast-break point in the first 24 minutes. Nor did they attempt a 3-pointer in the first period, when Phoenix fired up 11 shots from beyond the arc. The Suns did not take their first free throw until 4:02 into the fourth period.

The third quarter, which ended at 64-all, was a battle of runs, with New York forging two 7-0 bursts and Phoenix managing a 10-2 spree. Robinson closed out the Knicks' scoring with a pair of 3-pointers and was 5-for-5 from the floor at that point.

Game notes
Quentin Richardson, who came to the Knicks from Phoenix for Thomas on June 28, was not with New York on Friday night but was back in the Chicago area following the death of his brother earlier this week. ... Phoenix's Leandro Barbosa returned to action for the first time since injuring his left knee Dec. 7. ... The Suns were wearing retro uniforms that they had used for 20 years (1973-92) and will wear them six more times this season. ... This was the end of the Knicks' second Western trip of the season, the first time since the 1986-87 season that they have completed their Western swings before Christmas. ... Marbury is the only player to start
every game this season for the Knicks, who have used 12 different starting lineups in 19 games.


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