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Barbosa ties career high as Suns top Rockets

Mar 13, 2007 - 5:48 AM PHOENIX (Ticker) -- With a showdown looming against the league's top team, Leandro Barbosa kept the Phoenix Suns focused on the task at hand.

Barbosa tied a career high with 32 points, Boris Diaw added 15 and Shawn Marion 14 with 15 rebounds for the Phoenix Suns, who posted a 103-82 victory over the Houston Rockets.

The league's top scoring team (110.4), Phoenix (49-14) has won five straight and 10 of its last 11 contests to move within four games of the Dallas Mavericks (52-9) for first place in the Western Conference. The Suns face the Mavericks on Wednesday.

"I was really happy with the defense and the effort," said Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni, who was ejected for arguing in the third quarter. "It's hard to name all the guys that stepped it up. Tonight was a very solid team effort, both on offense and defense. It was a win we obviously wanted and needed, and we got it."

"I think our concentration (and) our discipline defensively was better," Suns guard Steve Nash said. "We just played harder. I think you can make up for so much when you play really hard and you sustain it."

Barbosa, who is averaging 25.8 points in his last four outings, scored 17 in the first half, including a pair of 3-pointers, to give Phoenix a 52-42 advantage.

"I am just having fun and I am trying to make plays," Barbosa said. "I learned a lot of things from Steve Nash and the coach has confidence in me. I was wide open tonight when I was shooting and the guys we finding me, and I was hitting."

"He was incredible, but he has been that way since the All-Star break, at least," D'Antoni said. "He has been really good for about a year and a half. You keep expecting him to never miss and he is getting close to it."

Rafer Alston drilled a basket from the arc with 8:52 left in the third quarter to bring Houston within 55-51. However, Marion scored five points, Amare Stoudemire added four and Barbosa closed the quarter with a 3-pointer to help widen the Suns lead, 74-66.

Phoenix gradually pulled away by opening the fourth period with a 21-9 run. Barbosa started the spurt with a running jumper and had 10 points in the burst. James Jones added two jumpers and Nash made a layup for a 95-75 lead with 2:47 to go.

"The guy is playing great basketball," Nash said of Barbosa. "He (is) getting better and better, and I think he (is) even becoming more versatile. He (is) just a great weapon for us and it is just really fun to watch him develop."

"I thought we were in the ballpark at the start of the fourth," Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "We just didn't play well enough and I thought our willpower lessened when it got harder. We were hanging around but obviously struggled on offense."

Barbosa hit 12-of-18 shots from the floor, including 5-of-6 from the arc. Stoudemire scored 12 points and Jones added 11 for the Suns, who are 25-6 at home.

"It was a good game for us," Marion said. "I think we came out here and it was a slow start for both teams, but I think we were trying to make our defense felt early and trying to be active and make them take tough shots, and we did what we had to do."

"Tonight, we played a marquee team and we needed to come out with a lot of intensity from the start," Stoudemire said. "We did that. It was definitely a big task for us with (Tracy) McGrady and Yao (Ming), but we were able to manage."

McGrady scored 19 points, but was just 8-of-28 from the field, Juwan Howard had 14 and Chuck Hayes 13 for the Rockets, who entered as the league's No. 2 defensive squad.

"I thought the momentum had shifted in our favor when D'Antoni had got kicked out," McGrady said. "But it didn't work that way. They went on a scoring spree and it's tough to trade baskets with them. They're too well rounded with shooters all over the basketball court."

"We shot bad tonight as a team," Howard said. "I think they beat us on the boards (50-36) pretty bad tonight and that is supposed to be a strength for us. Tonight, they beat us to a lot of loose balls and the offensive boards, and got second opportunities to make shots."

Coming off a 37-point outing against the Orlando Magic on Sunday, Houston center Yao Ming managed just 10 on 1-of-9 shooting.

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