Stoudemire strong as Suns down NetsMar 30, 2008 - 4:16 AM By Joe Rizzo PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer
EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (Ticker) -- Amare Stoudemire had 33 points and 15 rebounds as the Phoenix Suns bridged the halves with a decisive run to take the lead for good Saturday en route to a 110-104 victory over the New Jersey Nets.
Leandro Barbosa scored 21 points as the Suns closed their four-game Eastern swing with a 2-2 mark and improved to 9-2 in their last 11 games.
They matched the idle Los Angeles Lakers (49-24) for first place in the Pacific Division - making up four games in the standings since March 9 - to move within one game of the New Orleans Hornets (49-22) for the top spot in the West.
The Hornets are percentage points ahead of the San Antonio Spurs (50-23).
"We get the road trip out of the way, and 2-2 is not too bad," Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni said. "Now, it's kind of in our hands."
Vince Carter had 32 points, seven rebounds and six assists against five turnovers as the Nets continued to struggle in their quest for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
New Jersey (31-43) lost for the fourth time in six games and is two games behind the Atlanta Hawks (32-40) for the last playoff slot.
"I'm going to play this thing out until the last day," Carter said. "I'm going to do everything I can personally and do my best to get everybody on board. We are going to fight it out and find a way. ... We have to play with a lot of fire if we want to play in the second season."
The hard-fought game featured four technical foul calls against the Nets and three against Phoenix.
"Everybody gets a little bit testy at the end of the year," D'Antoni said. "We were complaining the whole game, so ours was probably deserved. I don't know about theirs. But we need to lighten up a little bit."
"Our guys showed a lot of toughness and fight," New Jersey coach Lawrence Frank said. "We fought our tails off. It's disappointing because the things we all want and need are wins."
The Suns rallied from a 10-point deficit to take a 52-51 halftime lead, scoring four points with one-half second remaining when Stoudemire banked in a short jumper and was fouled.
While officials checked the replay to see if the shot made it before the buzzer, the Nets' Marcus Williams was assessed a technical, which was converted by Steve Nash - his first point of the game.
Phoenix scored the first nine points of the second half to make it 61-51, as Stoudemire scored four straight and Barbosa hit a 3-pointer before Raja Bell's basket capped the run.
The Nets closed within 63-61 on a 3-pointer by Carter midway through the third quarter but, on the next possession, Stoudemire made a driving layup. Stoudemire then out-hustled two Nets for his lone offensive rebound, and Shaquille O'Neal finished the sequence with a power dunk.
Stoudemire threw down another dunk, and then converted a layup and a dunk off the fast break. Nash hit a free throw after Frank was given a technical to make it 74-61 with 4:49 left.
"We wanted to come out in the second half and set the tone early and we were able to keep it going," Stoudemire said. "We are playing well, we are all jelling and showing great improvement. As long as we're winning, that's what matters the most."
O'Neal went 7-of-10 from the foul line en route to 17 points and pulled down seven boards. O'Neal and Stoudemire were a combined 17-of-23 from the floor, helping the Suns shoot just under 50 percent (38-of-77).
"Amare is really our go-to guy," O'Neal said. "He's playing fabulous. He's putting up MVP-type numbers. Everybody else is just asked to play roles and that's fine with me.
"Throughout my championship years, I know for me to win it I've always had to have other guys that can play. On this team, there are guys that can play. It's pretty much one of my easiest years."
The Nets closed the gap to as few as three points in the fourth quarter, but Carter and Josh Boone went a combined 2-of-7 from the foul line in a 32-second span with just under four minutes left as Phoenix held on.
"I missed three big ones, had a technical and gave them two free throws in a row," Carter said. "At the time, it was a two-point game."
Nash's 3-pointer with 1:29 left put the game out of reach, making it 102-94. Nash finished with 10 points and 11 assists, battling a sore right shoulder.
"I just had a muscle spasm in my shoulder," Nash said. "I feel pretty confident I can get rid of it. It popped up after my nap, and that's not really enough time to get it settled down. Hopefully, by next game, I can get it better."
Nenad Krstic scored 10 of his 12 points in the first quarter as the Nets built a 31-21 lead, their biggest of the game.
NEW JERSEY 104 FINAL
Mar 29 10:15 PM
NEW JERSEY 71 END, 3RD QTR
Mar 29 9:36 PM
NEW JERSEY 51 HALFTIME
Mar 29 8:52 PM
NEW JERSEY 31 END, 1ST QTR
Mar 29 8:07 PM
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