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Suns send Bulls to third straight loss

PHOENIX (AP) -- Unaccustomed as they were to playing at home
recently, the Phoenix Suns were rusty in the first half against the
Chicago Bulls. Once they found the range in the second half, it was
no contest.

Shawn Marion had 26 points and 11 rebounds, All-Star game
starter Steve Nash added 21 points and seven assists, and the Suns
beat the Bulls 118-101 Saturday night for their third straight
victory.

In defeating the Bulls for the eighth consecutive time on their
home court, the Suns increased their Pacific Division lead to 2½
games over the Los Angeles Clippers.

The loss was the third in a row for the Bulls on their
seven-game, 14-day road trip against Western Conference opponents.

Phoenix, coming off a six-game, nine-day road trip, hit only 38
percent of its shots (18-for-47) in the first half. In the second
half, the Suns were 25-for-42 (59 percent), including 14-of-21 (67
percent) in the decisive third quarter when they outscored Chicago
38-20.

"In the third quarter, we did a great job of moving the ball
and getting good looks, and at the same time, we were really active
defensively," Nash said.

By the end of the third quarter, the Suns had increased their
halftime lead of two points to 90-70.

"Being up by 20 after three periods is better than being up by
20 at halftime," Nash added. "After halftime, it gives them more
time to get back into it. Being up by 20 after three periods
demoralizes them."

Marion agreed that the third period was the turning point.

"We came out and opened up the game on both ends of the
floor," he said. "It was rough in the first half, because they
were hitting 50 percent of their shots. In the third quarter, we
got some stops and came out running. We took them out of their
rhythm and started doing what we do best."

Ben Gordon was the major bright spot for the Bulls, scoring a
career-best 39 points on 14 of 21 shooting. He hit a team-record
nine 3-pointers, surpassing the team record of eight set last
season by Chris Duhon.

Raja Bell added 17 points for the Suns, James Jones and Eddie
House had 14 apiece, and Boris Diaw had 11 points and 12 rebounds.

The Suns made 17 3-pointers, one off their season high and two
off their team record.

"With a team like that, that has so many good perimeter
shooters, you can't make that many defensive mistakes," Gordon
said. "They just shot the heck out of the ball."

Gordon downplayed his performance. "Points don't mean anything
in a loss," he said. "I'm just trying to do whatever I can to get
us a win."

Luol Deng scored 17 points and Michael Sweetney had 14 for
Chicago.

Chicago coach Scott Skiles said the Bulls were fortunate to be
trailing by only two points at halftime, because the Suns missed
several open shots.

"But in the second half, they were putting them in and they
ended it pretty quickly," Skiles said.

The Suns led 52-50 at halftime, thanks to Marion and Nash, the
only Phoenix players to hit more than 50 percent of their shots,
and their 3-point shooting -- they hit 8-of-20. Marion finished the
half with 16 points and Nash scored 15.

The usually supercharged Suns also had a big advantage in
fast-break points, as expected, outscoring the slowdown Bulls 12-6.

However, the pinpoint shooting of Gordon and the board work of
Tyson Chandler kept the Bulls close. Gordon hit Chicago's only four
3-pointers of the half and scored 20 points, including a
coast-to-coast driving layup just before the buzzer.

Chandler nearly had a double-double by halftime with 11 rebounds
and nine points, but he didn't score in the second half and grabbed
only one rebound.

The Bulls dominated inside, with Chandler, Sweetney, Andres
Nocioni and Othella Harrington accounting for 28 points in the
half. By comparison, the Suns had only 12 points underneath.

Game notes
The Bulls, a playoff team last season, are in last place in
the Central Division, 19 games behind first-place Detroit. ...
Saturday's game began a stretch in which the Suns will have nine
home games, 20 off days and two road games until March 5. ... The
Suns' only overtime win in five OT games this season was against
the Bulls, 107-98 at Chicago on Dec. 31. ... Chicago has not won at
Phoenix since Nov. 20, 1996, when Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen
each scored 37 points in a 113-99 victory. ... Phil Mickelson,
winner of two major golf titles, was a courtside spectator.