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Diaw, Barbosa pick up slack in Nash's absence

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Steve Nash missed the decisive run in the
Phoenix Suns' 11th straight win. What he did see left him impressed
with teammates Boris Diaw and Leandro Barbosa.

Diaw scored 14 of his 20 points in the second half and added 12
rebounds, Barbosa scored 10 fourth-quarter points, and the Suns
overcame Nash's injury in a 101-88 win over the New Orleans Hornets
on Monday night.

Barbosa made two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, when the Suns
outscored the Hornets 30-9.

"LB hit those two huge 3s and Boris was a rebounding machine,"
Nash said. "I think (the Hornets) also got kind of cold from the
floor and we kind of hit our stride at the same time."

Nash, the reigning NBA MVP, sprained his right ankle and left
the game with 2:54 remaining in the third quarter and the Suns down
by four points. He did not return.

"I just stepped on someone's foot and it just rolled over,"
Nash said.

Without him, the Suns erased an eight-point deficit with a 15-2
run to open the fourth quarter, capped by Barbosa's two free throws
with 5:56 left.

Chris Paul ended New Orleans' drought with a three-point play,
but Phoenix rallied with eight straight points and took a 94-84
edge after back-to-back 3-pointers from Barbosa, Nash's
replacement.

"He was awesome," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said. "He hit some
major shots coming down the stretch and controlled the game. He
played really well."

Nash said he thought at first that he would be able to return
and still thought that when he got to the locker room. After the
game, he had the ankle wrapped and struggled at first to get his
right shoe on.

"I think it's day-to-day," Nash said. "I'm not very
experienced at ankle sprains. I think we'll know a lot more
tomorrow. I don't think it's horrible."

The second-half struggles were nothing new for the Hornets, who
set an NBA record low with 16 points in the second half of an 89-67
loss to the Los Angeles Clippers their last time out.

The Hornets hit only one of 10 shots to start the final period
and that allowed the Suns to take control.

"I thought we were soft," Hornets coach Byron Scott said.
"Soft on defense. Soft on the boards. That tells me we're
scared."

Shawn Marion had 19 points and 16 rebounds for his 46th
double-double, the most in the NBA. Raja Bell scored 17 points,
Barbosa added 15 and Nash had 12 points and seven assists before
leaving.

David West led New Orleans with 22 points and Paul added 14
points and 11 assists. Kirk Snyder scored all of his 13 points in
the first half and Desmond Mason had 11, but only three after
halftime.

The Hornets shot 60 percent in a frenetic first half, but
weren't able to keep pace with Phoenix, the NBA's highest-scoring
team, after that. They shot 28 percent in the second half and made
only three of 18 fourth-quarter shots (17 percent).

West said he thought the Hornets' young players might be
starting to feel the pressure of the playoff push and were becoming
tight. New Orleans' first eight games in March are against teams in
position to make the playoffs.

"We're going to need a change, especially coming down this
stretch," West said. "These next five or six games are going to
determine how we're going to finish this thing out, whether we're
in a dogfight or whether we're able to give ourselves some
breathing room."

The Hornets opened a 46-32 lead with a 13-2 run that started
with Rasual Butler's buzzer-beating jumper to end the first quarter
and continued until Aaron Williams put back his own miss.

Phoenix eliminated the deficit with a 14-1 run to start the
second half and took a 63-62 lead on Nash's driving layup with 6:43
to play in the third quarter.

"Most of the time when we play people they just get tired,"
Marion said. "That's how we wear on people. They can play with us
for the first two or three, but when that fourth quarter kicks in,
the majority of the time we just run away with it."

Game notes
The same day he signed a law making Hornets tickets exempt
from state sales tax, Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry sat courtside next
to Hornets owner George Shinn ... Tim Thomas made his first start,
taking the usual starting spot of injured Kurt Thomas. ... The
Hornets drew 19,207 fans for their 15th sellout in 27 games in
Oklahoma City. They play their first game in New Orleans on
Wednesday, and another sellout is expected. ... The Suns outscored
New Orleans 37-10 in the fourth quarter of another 101-88 win Dec.
16 in Baton Rouge, La.