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Pacific battle: Marion, Nash lead Suns past Clippers

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Phoenix Suns rebounded from their worst
loss of the season with a strong team effort.

Shawn Marion had 30 points and 17 rebounds, Leandro Barbosa had
21 off the bench, and Steve Nash added 20 points and 18 assists for
the Suns on Wednesday night in a 112-102 victory that ended the
Clippers' three-game winning streak.

"We have a lot of guys who can shoot the ball, and that's how
our team is built," said Nash, last season's MVP. "We don't
really have a post-up player, so we have to move the ball,
penetrate and kick, and create open shots for one another."

The Suns, who were coming off a season-worst 29-point loss at
Sacramento, increased their lead in the Pacific Division to 3
games over the second-place Clippers with their 11th victory in 14
games. The only other time the teams have met this season was Dec.
10, when Los Angeles snapped Phoenix's nine-game winning streak
with a 101-91 victory that temporarily put the Clippers alone in
first place.

"We showed a lot of toughness and determination to come back
from last night and not allow that to carry over," Nash said.

Sam Cassell scored 27 points for the Clippers, who weren't able
to contain the NBA's highest-scoring teams. Elton Brand had 19
points, and Chris Kaman added 13 points and 17 rebounds.

Phoenix led by as many as 21 points early in the third quarter
before staving off a fourth-quarter rally by Los Angeles.

Clippers shooting guard Cuttino Mobley picked up two fouls in
the first 4:05 and didn't return to the court until the start of
the second half. He made his only basket in nine attempts with 9:01
remaining, as he converted a layup into a three-point play. That
triggered a 10-2 run that reduced a 14-point deficit to 100-94.

Rookie Daniel Ewing capped the rally with a 3-pointer -- the
Clippers' only one of the game -- but they got no closer.

"Me getting in foul trouble, that was the difference," Mobley
said. "I shouldn't put our team in that situation. The coach
relies on me doing different things on the court. Ad when I'm not
out there, we've got Sam playing with a bad back and a lot of young
guys out there. It's kind of hard to battle back when you ain't got
that much time."

The Suns, who averaged an NBA-best 9.71 baskets from 3-point
range last season, are leading the league again in that department.
They were 11-for-26 from behind the arc, while the Clippers were
1-for-7.

"We try to take what they give us," Nash said. "A lot of
times when we get the ball in the paint, they're going to leave our
3-point shooters open. We're confident with anyone taking a shot in
their comfort zone and we feel like we can create shots for one
another."

Cassell, who sat out practice Tuesday because of a sore back
after playing 43 minutes in Monday's overtime win over Utah,
received a technical foul from referee David Guthrie with 1.6
seconds left in the first quarter. Cassell responded with a
profanity, but escaped a second technical as Guthrie walked away.

Nash converted the free throw after Cassell's technical foul,
starting a 23-7 run that extended Phoenix's four-point lead to
51-31 with 7:26 left in the half. Barbosa made three driving layups
during the rally, which ended with 3-pointers 33 seconds apart by
James Jones and former Clipper Eddie House.

Suns chairman and CEO Jerry Colangelo is with the team on this
trip, and approached Brand before the game about the possibility of
playing in the Olympics. Colangelo is managing director for USA
Basketball, and is involved in the selection process for the squad
that will compete in the world championships and the 2008 Beijing
Games.

"The reason why I was meeting with him is that we have great
interest in him for what he is," said Colangelo, who is expected
to announce the first batch of camp invitees by the NBA All-Star
break in mid-February. "He's a competitor and he's a winner. He
plays a lot bigger than his size, and his shot has improved
tremendously. He would give the team we're trying to put together a
low post presence.

"If we send him an invitation, he's definitely indicated that
he would accept. He knows about the three-year commitment, he knows
what's expected of him, and he'd like the opportunity. He told me,
`If you invite me, I'm in."

Game notes
Brand and Marion are among four players currently averaging
at least 20 points and 10 rebounds. The other two are Tim Duncan
and Kevin Garnett. ... The Suns had 32 assists and just nine
turnovers. They came in with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.96,
second best in the league behind Detroit (2.13).