for this game

Stoudemire warms up as Suns scorch Grizzlies

Mar 12, 2008 - 6:14 AM PHOENIX (Ticker) -- Slowly but surely, the presence of Shaquille O'Neal - the self-proclaimed "Big Cactus" - is serving less as a roadblock to the Phoenix Suns' success and more of a pain in the side of the opponents.

Amare Stoudemire had 29 points and 13 rebounds for the Suns en route to a 132-111 rout of the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday.

O'Neal scored just two points, but had eight rebounds, three blocks and a season-high six assists for Phoenix, which won consecutive games for the first time since beating the Seattle SuperSonics and Washington Wizards in early February.

Since joining Phoenix from the Miami Heat on February 6, many questioned whether the addition of O'Neal to the up-tempo Suns was a good match. The Suns struggled early on, going 3-6 in his first nine games.

However, Phoenix grabbed a much-needed victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday - just its sixth win in 20 games against teams in the Western Conference playoff picture.

"There were about four or five factors going against us and it takes a while and we are still not there, but Shaq is playing better every game and we're getting used to how to defend with him in the middle," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We've never had anyone who completely blocks the middle like he does and you can play differently."

Building off that momentum, the Suns wasted little time overwhelming the lowly Grizzlies.

Phoenix, which never trailed, pulled away midway through the first quarter when Stoudemire scored seven points during a 20-3 run - turning a one-point lead into a 36-18 advantage.

"That's huge, tonight was definitely a night when we wanted to get this win early, wanted to come out with a lot of fire and set the tone from jump ball," Stoudemire said. "We did that tonight and it showed."

For the first time since it acquired him, Phoenix looked comfortable running its offense through O'Neal, and it showed as he posted four first-quarter assists.

"It's about that time where we start to feel comfortable with ourselves," Stoudemire said. "We knew it was going to take some time to get going, and we're still getting better. We're just scratching the surface of how good we can be; we just got to continue to grow as a unit and continue to improve."

"They are getting very comfortable with me, especially with passing and cutting," O'Neal said. "They know that I'm a very unselfish player also, and when I get the ball, (the opponent is) going to do two things: they are going to double or they are going to look (inside at him). I'm just telling my guys when they look, just take that as a sign and get open and I'm going to get the ball to you."

While Rudy Gay hit a late jumper to save the Grizzlies from the humility of a 20-point deficit after one quarter, the Suns padded their lead some more over the next 12 minutes.

Leading by 52-32 with 6:47 left before intermission, Boris Diaw and Stoudemire combined to score the first 10 points during a half-ending 20-9 run which left the Suns with a commanding 72-41 bulge at intermission.

Phoenix enjoyed an incredible 20-1 advantage in fast-break points for the contest.

"We can run with Shaq in there and, as a matter of fact, we should run more," D'Antoni said. "I think the guys are individually getting better because they are feeling better about things. There are a lot of components that kind of have to mesh. We have a chance to be a really good team and we're going to keep working toward that goal."

In a game that was a laugher from almost the very beginning, perhaps it was appropriate that O'Neal provided the most comical moment.

Early in the second quarter, O'Neal battled for a defensive rebound and tipped the ball to the sidelines.

Trying to keep the ball inbounds, he sprinted toward the Suns' bench, which cleared immediately hoping to avoid the same situation that occurred on Sunday when the 325-pound O'Neal dove into the third row of seats after a loose ball.

This time, however, O'Neal stopped short, rounding off his route away from Phoenix's bench, which had scattered quickly to avoid being on the wrong end of another plunge.

As O'Neal pulled up, he glanced over at his teammates, playfully questioning the bench why they were unwilling to brace his fall - laughing all the while.

"We got a team of smart guys who pay attention to tendencies, and Shaq has a tendency to dive into the crowd, so I just remembered that play from the San Antonio game," Suns forward Grant Hill said. "It was pretty funny, probably the highlight of the game. It shows that he's going to hustle for us to do that."

Gay finished with 20 points for the Grizzlies, who have lost 15 straight road games.

"We're going through some rebuilding times right now," Grizzlies coach Mark Iavaroni said. "Our concentration is suffering because it's difficult with 20 games to go - 19 now - to really have something to play for. We are testing character (and) guys' ability to play through this."

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