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Suns combat late surge, squeak past Hornets

PHOENIX -- The Phoenix Suns are 9-1 since the All-Star break and everybody is wondering what's wrong with them.

That's what happens when artistic blowouts are replaced by less-than-impressive squeakers.

Amare Stoudemire had 18 points and 11 rebounds, and the Suns withstood a last-minute surge by New Orleans to hand the Hornets their fourth loss in a row, 104-103 on Friday night.

Raja Bell, for one, is through worrying about his team.

"We won a game and we're trying to get better every time out and we've won nine out of 10," Bell said. "We're not firing on all cylinders, but I'm not going to put a negative spin on it anymore. We're fine."

After escaping with a victory over Charlotte in overtime Wednesday, the Suns nearly blew a late 10-point lead against New Orleans.

The Hornets finished with a 10-1 run and had a chance to win, but David West threw up what looked like a 9-foot hook shot that never found the rim.

Afterward, though, West said he was trying to pass the ball to Tyson Chandler, who also thought it was a shot.

"Instead of shooting, I kind of lofted it there, but Tyson wasn't ready for it," West said, "and that was my fault because I didn't tell him to look for it."

Chandler said the play called for West to shoot and was trying to position himself for a rebound.

"I was looking to try to find a body just in case he missed it to try to get a tip-in," Chandler said. "When I was looking for a body, the ball was coming at me, and I didn't even see it."

Said coach Byron Scott: "The play was designed perfect. He just didn't shoot it. I guess he saw something else."

Devin Brown got the rebound but couldn't get a shot up before the buzzer.

It was a tough loss for a Hornets team fighting for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

"Man, I don't know if we've had a loss this year that hurt this bad," Chandler said.

After Stoudemire made a free throw to put Phoenix ahead 104-99 with 1:28 to play, Brown made two free throws with 49 seconds left. Stoudemire was called for an offensive foul on the next possession and Chris Paul's driving layup cut it to one with 29 seconds remaining.

Leandro Barbosa missed a 3-pointer, then in a scramble for the ball, the Hornets called timeout with 3.5 seconds left despite protests from the Suns that New Orleans never had possession.

Boris Diaw had 14 points and nine rebounds in his second game back for the Suns after missing nine with back spasms.

"They pound it inside and controlled a lot of tempo, but a positive for us is getting Boris back," Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni said. "He's just a facilitator. You can see what he means. We're not quite sharp yet, but I thought the intensity was a little better, and we'll be fine."

Diaw admitted he was sore after the game.

"It was a little painful after the game," he said. "Usually when I'm warmed up, it's OK. That's why the second half it took a few minutes in the game to warm up again. Once it's warmed up, I don't feel it too much."

Barbosa scored 19 points but was just 3-of-11 on 3-pointers. Bell scored 17, going 5-of-7 from 3-point range. Steve Nash had 15 points and 10 assists.

West and Brown scored 19 points apiece. Jannero Pargo added 15 points and Paul 14 for the Hornets.

Stoudemire -- who didn't score his first point until there was 5:17 left in the first half -- had his 51st consecutive double-digit scoring game after going scoreless against the Hornets last Nov. 22.

There were nine lead changes and 13 ties.

Pargo, who scored nine in the final quarter, made a 3-pointer with 10:04 to go to give the Hornets their last lead. The Suns followed with their biggest run of the night, an 11-0 outburst that gave Phoenix the lead for good, 91-83 with 7:37 remaining.

Another 3 by Pargo cut it to 95-91 with 5:22 left, but an 8-2 spurt, capped by Barbosa's 3-pointer, put the Suns ahead 103-93 with 3:19 to play.

The Suns made seven of their first nine 3-pointers, then went 2-for-19 before Barbosa made one and Bell two in the decisive 11-0 run.

Game notes
Stoudemire, who has 14 technical fouls this season -- two against Charlotte on Wednesday -- was a model of decorum and politeness, even handing the ball to the referee after his late offensive foul. ... Phoenix made 14 of 35 3s and has put up 73 3-pointers in its last two games -- making 33. ... Chandler grabbed 11 rebounds and has double-digit rebounds for an NBA-best 21 consecutive games. ... Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor had a courtside seat.