for this game

Stoudemire, O'Neal too much for Rockets

Mar 23, 2008 - 5:44 AM By Bob Huhn PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

PHOENIX (Ticker) - The Houston Rockets were introduced to the new hottest team in the Western Conference.

Amare Stoudemire had 38 points and 13 rebounds and Shaquille O'Neal chipped in 23 and 13 to lead the Phoenix Suns to their seventh straight win with Saturday's 122-113 triumph over the Rockets.

With the win, the Suns (47-22) pulled within one game of the idle Los Angeles Lakers (48-21) for tops in the loaded Western Conference standings with 13 games left in the regular season.

Phoenix went just 3-6 over their their first nine games after acquiring O'Neal in a blockbuster trade on February 6 from the Miami Heat. But now, the Suns own the longest active streak in the NBA.

"When I first got here, the games that we lost I felt that nobody beat us. It was just tying to adjust to each other," O'Neal said. "I knew at some point we would get to this level. It is probably the best team I have been on one through 12.

"Every team needs a 1-2 punch, and this team has a 1-2-3 punch. Steve (Nash) and Amare being the 1-2 and me being the extra knockout punch."

Houston had its franchise-record, 22-game winning streak stopped by the Boston Celtics earlier this week. It was the second longest streak in NBA history.

Stoudemire hit all 20 of his free throws to set a new franchise mark. The 25-year-old recorded his 11th 30-point, 10-rebound effort of the season and has averaged 28.9 points since the trade.

"I was never a horrible free-throw shooter," Stoudemire said. "There were just a few techniques that I had to work on and was able to get that done the past few years with reputation. Being back at my natural power forward position has allowed me to play the way I love to play and allows me to guard guys at my position."

Phoenix came out hitting on all cylinders from the start, building a commanding 38-21 advantage after the opening quarter. The Suns shot a blistering 73 percent (14-of-19) from the field while holding Houston to just 33 percent.

The Suns stepped up their high-powered offense even more in the second by shooting 78 percent to forge an insurmountable 74-57 lead at the half.

"In the first half, we did a lot of great things," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said. "I just don't want to get ahead of ourselves. Two weeks ago, we weren't going to make the playoffs, according to a lot of people, and today we will probably never lose again and neither one are true."

"I was disappointed the way we played in the first half," Rockets coach Rick Adelman said. "They jumped on us an took control with Stoudemire. They came out and went after us from the start."

But the Rockets made things interesting in the fourth as Bobby Jackson netted eight of his 13 points during an aggressive 14-4 burst to cut the deficit to 109-101 with five minutes left.

However, Steve Nash's 3-pointer restored order as Phoenix held on thereafter.

"When we cut the lead to eight it kind of gave us some confidence that if we could make a couple of stops but we lost this game in the first half," Houston swingman Tracy McGrady said. "They shot the ball well in the first half, and we didn't have an answer for them."

McGrady carried the load with 30 points, nine assists and eight rebounds for the Rockets (47-22), who fell 1 1/2 games behind the Lakers in the West standings.

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