Denver (40-30) at Phoenix (46-21)

Mostly Cloudy Currently: Phoenix, AZ
Temp: 99° F
  • Game info: 9:00 pm EST Sat Mar 25, 2006
Preview | Box Score | Recap

With Amare Stoudemire back, the Phoenix Suns continue to move forward.

Phoenix looks to maintain its firm grip on the Pacific Division lead as it hosts the Denver Nuggets in a meeting of first-place teams at the US Airways Center.

The Suns, seeking their first back-to-back division titles in franchise history, are seven games ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers with 15 games remaining.

Denver has a seven-game advantage over Utah in the Northwest Division with 12 games left and is trying to capture its first division crown since 1987-88.

Fueled by the return of Stoudemire, the Suns routed the Portland Trail Blazers 125-108 on Thursday.

The Suns compiled a league-high 76 first-half points and reached 120 points for the 12th time this season, raising their scoring average to 108.4, tops in the NBA by more than six points over the next-highest scoring team, the Seattle SuperSonics (102.1).

All eyes, however, were on Stoudemire, who had 20 points and nine rebounds in 19 minutes in his first action this season. He missed the first 66 games after undergoing knee surgery Oct. 11.

“When I first started, I just wanted to get myself going,” said Stoudemire, the team’s leading scorer and league’s fifth-highest scorer last season at 26.0 points per game. “I was real hyped right before the game started. Once the adrenaline got to pumping and I got that first shot down, everything was cool from there.”

Phoenix coach Mike D’Antoni was impressed with the debut.

“This is a great start,” he said. “I’m pretty jacked up.”

Stoudemire’s return comes at the right time for the Suns, who play 10 of their final 14 games on the road after this contest, including a five-game road trip that starts Monday at New Jersey.

Stoudemire is averaging 18.3 points and 8.2 rebounds in 10 lifetime games against the Nuggets.

Denver has won three straight games and is 14-5 in its last 19 contests, including a 7-3 road mark over that span to improve to 17-18 away from the Pepsi Center.

Carmelo Anthony’s scored 31 points and Reggie Evans added a career-high 22 in his first game against his former team as Denver reached 40 wins for the third consecutive season with a 117-104 victory Friday over Seattle.

Marcus Camby contributed eight points and 13 boards, and Andre Miller had 15 assists for the Nuggets, who surpassed 100 points for the eighth consecutive game and 10th time in their last 11.

“I thought Reggie really kept us in the game in the first half,” Denver coach George Karl said of Evans, who was acquired from the Sonics in a four-team trade Feb. 23. “He might have been the MVP of the game.”

Denver’s defense was equally impressive, forcing 17 turnovers and holding the Sonics to 41.8 percent shooting, including a 6-for-19, 14-point performance by leading scorer Ray Allen.

Anthony, who has scored 28 or more points in seven straight games and ranks among the league leaders with a 26.6 scoring average, is averaging 31.3 points and 5.3 rebounds in three games against the Suns this season.

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