for this game

Stoudemire, Suns overcome huge deficit vs. Nuggets

Apr 1, 2008 - 6:35 AM PHOENIX (Ticker) -- A fast start and big early lead was not enough for the Denver Nuggets to change their recent fortunes in Phoenix.

Amare Stoudemire scored 41 points and Steve Nash added 36 to lead the Phoenix Suns to a 132-117 victory over the Nuggets on Monday night.

In a dogfight for the final two spots in the Western Conference playoffs along with Dallas and Golden State, Denver had hoped to match a season-high, six-game winning streak and looked poised to do it early on.

But with the loss, Denver (45-29) is one-half game behind the Warriors (45-28) and one game behind the seventh-seeded Mavericks (46-28).

"Obviously, they played great in the first half, and we played great in the second half. Unbelievable game in a lot of aspects," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said.

"I am really proud of just coming out with defense and offense both together. It was pretty potent in the second half. We did some really good things. And they did some great things in the first half. I thought it was a great game."

The Nuggets led by as many as 22 in the first half but surrendered 81 points in the second half, including 46 in the fourth quarter when Stoudemire and the Suns pulled ahead.

The Suns needed this one too and are also playing well. They now have won three straight and 10 of their last 12 and are tied with the Los Angles Lakers (50-24) for first place in the Pacific Division.

The Nuggets came out of the locker room firing on all cylinders, shooting an impressive 69 percent while holding the NBA's top offense to just 29 percent from the field, as they sprinted to a 39-25 lead after one.

"They were good and they are good. When they get it going, it's tough to defend them," D'Antoni said. "We just weren't really quick to the ball, and I just think they have certain things that I don't think you can hardly defend. That's Carmelo (Anthony) 1-on-1. That's (Allen) Iverson running around picks and hitting that mid-range jumper."

Leading, 29-25, with 2:54 left, six different players scored a bucket for Denver in its 12-0 run to close the quarter. The Nuggets continued their offensive barrage in the second quarter as four player had double digits in points by the half as they took a commanding 70-51 lead.

"It's rare when you see a Phoenix team shoot 30 percent in the first half," Suns center Shaquille O'Neal said. "I knew we weren't going to shoot like that the whole game. We just picked up our defense a little bit, woke up in the second half and played phenomenal ball and just stuck with it."

Phoenix cut into the deficit in the third and roared past Denver in the final quarter.

"We're a team that wants to win and we have the fight in us," Stoudemire said. "The second half showed that. We came out with a lot of intensity the second half. We played hard, we played team basketball, we played at a high I.Q. level as well."

O'Neal, who scored 20 points and had 12 rebounds, pulled the Suns within 108-107 on a three-point play with 6:36 to play. After a miss by Iverson, Nash hit a pull-up 3-pointer to put Phoenix ahead, 110-108.

Later in the quarter, O'Neal sandwiched a pair of baskets around a dunk by Stoudemire to put the Suns ahead 116-109, and they continued to extend the lead from there.

"They played better than we did, it was a total meltdown," Iverson said. "They played better than us on both ends of the floor and they did what they had to do offensively and walked us down.

"It's disappointing whatever type of loss it is. Regardless, if you're up or you get beat at the buzzer, it's the same thing."

J.R. Smith scored 23 points and Iverson added 21 for Denver, which hosts Phoenix on Tuesday.

"Tomorrow will be fun," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "I'm sure somewhere in my career I've had one like that. It was disappointing, frustrating. I think the film will show we did a lot of good stuff, stuff that we can figure out that we can do a little better in certain circumstances."