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Suns show some rare defense in win over Hornets

Nov 23, 2006 - 4:43 AM PHOENIX (Ticker) -- Who said the Phoenix Suns can't play defense?

The Suns gave their best defensive effort of the season by far and rode 24 points from Steve Nash to a 92-83 victory over the New Orleans Hornets, who had a four-game winning streak snapped.

Boris Diaw scored a season-high 18 points and Raja Bell also had 18 for Phoenix, which easily survived a scoreless game by Amare Stoudemire, 20 turnovers and its worst offensive output of the season.

"We gutted it out," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We didn't play pretty all the time, and until we get our mojo back and start feeling better ourselves, we have to find a way to win and we have the last few games."

The Suns came in averaging a league-best 108 points per game. However, they also were giving up a league-worst 108.1 points per game, which somewhat explained their sluggish 4-6 start.

Having surrendered less than 90 points just once this season, Phoenix allowed just 31 points in the middle two periods. The Suns limited the Hornets to 40 percent (34-of-85) from the field, including 1-of-14 from 3-point range.

"We did play well defensively, in the second half especially," D'Antoni said. "We were not rolling offensively, but you hold a team to 13 points in the third quarter and it is a little bit of a slower game."

"The defense was nice to see," Suns forward Kurt Thomas said. "We know our offense is going to be good and we know that the night that our offense struggles we know that our defense needs to carry us."

Nash had a jumper between two free throws and a thunderous dunk by Shawn Marion to help Phoenix open a 67-55 lead late in the third period. The two-time MVP took a seat at the start of the fourth quarter, when the Hornets rallied.

A follow dunk by Tyson Chandler cut the deficit to 71-65 before Nash returned. After two free throws by Marcus Banks and a layup by Thomas, Nash made a driving circus shot for a 77-65 lead with 6:40 to play.

"I do practice that a little bit," Nash said. "Maybe not as wild as that one, but it was out of necessity. It was a little lucky but I will take it."

The shot seemed to demoralize the Hornets, who got no closer than eight points thereafter.

"Every time we got close, Steve had an answer and scored," Hornets coach Byron Scott said. "That over-the-head bank shot was a killer, a real back-breaker."

"In the third quarter, we were able to get a nice lead and hold on to it," Thomas said. "What we have been struggling with is holding on to those leads and tonight in the fourth quarter we were able to hold on to it."

Marion scored 15 points for the Suns, who shot 47 percent (33-of-70), including 10-of-22 from the arc.

Phoenix's problems on offense could be traced to Stoudemire, who attempted just one shot in 21 minutes as he was hounded by Chandler, and an ankle injury to Leandro Barbosa, who did not play in the second half.

"Unless (Barbosa) comes down with the Brazilian jungle fever, he should be all right," D'Antoni said. "He has some strange injuries, but he turned his ankle the other day and re-injured it."

Peja Stojakovic and Desmond Mason scored 21 points apiece and Chris Paul added 18 for the Hornets, who had just seven assists. Chandler had 16 rebounds.

We just seemed like we didn't have any energy tonight," Scott said. "We just played flat. It was probably the worst game we've played energy-wise. In an 82-game schedule, you are going to have games like that you forget about it and take the positives."

The Hornets have lost nine of 10 in the series.

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