PHOENIX (AP)—Amare Stoudemire is showing that not only can he score and rebound, he’s an adroit passer, too.
Stoudemire, the NBA’s third-leading scorer and No. 18 rebounder, came close to the first triple-double of his career with 36 points, 15 rebounds and a career-high eight assists in leading the Phoenix Suns past the Charlotte Bobcats 115-106 Friday night.
The victory was the Suns’ fourth in a row, 13th in their last 14 games and gave them a 17-3 record—tying Seattle for the best in the NBA—on the one-year anniversary of Mike D’Antoni taking over as head coach.
“I didn’t know how close I was to a triple-double,” Stoudemire said. “Coach told me that I was two assists away, but tonight I just came out and wanted to be a complete player, trying to get everyone involved.
“The triple-double is going to come. It’s something I’m going to try and do.”
Shawn Marion and Quentin Richardson each added 20 points for Phoenix, which exceeded its NBA-high average of 108.6 points per game. Joe Johnson scored 12 points and Steven Hunter 10, with Steve Nash contributing nine points and 14 assists.
The expansion Bobcats, who are 0-9 on the road, were led by former Phoenix point guard Brevin Knight’s season-high 17 points. Primoz Brezec had 16 points, and Keith Bogans and Kareem Rush each scored 15. Rookie Emeka Okafor extended his NBA-best consecutive game streak with his ninth straight double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
The Suns led by as many as 17 points in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t put away the pesky Bobcats. But whenever the Suns needed offense, Stoudemire came through.
“Amare had that extra juice and he got us over the hump,” D’Antoni said. “He had an unbelievable first half … eight assists is great for him. If he does that, we will be fine.”
Phoenix now has won 12 straight games when playing an expansion team for the first time. Its only loss to an expansion team was to fellow first-year franchise Milwaukee in the 1968-69 season.
Despite the loss, Charlotte coach Bernie Bickerstaff was proud of his team.
“They never give up,” he said. “You’re playing against a terrific basketball team … a team that likes to get up and down the court and our guys just never surrender. My thing to them is … you keep playing the way you’re playing then you’re going to cause some problems to some teams.”
Knight agreed with his coach. “We just play with our hearts,” he said.
Stoudemire scored 20 points in the first half, including nine straight for Phoenix late in the second quarter as the Suns raced to a 64-55 lead. He shot 8-for-12 and grabbed eight rebounds.
He finished 13-of-20 from the field and 10-of-12 from the foul line.
“It was a great game tonight,” Stoudemire said of his overall contributions. “I knew they were coming with the double- and triple-team, and I did a great job of passing off. When guys are double-teaming, the best thing I can do is give guys wide-open shots and they were knocking them down tonight.”
The Suns used an 11-0 run during a two-minute span of the first period to take the lead for good, 15-8. Phoenix led by as many as 11 points six times during the half and Charlotte never came closer than four.
Richardson, who hit consecutive 3-pointers during the spurt that carried the Suns from an 8-4 deficit into the lead, finished the half with 14 points.
Knight surpassed his previous season high of 14 points in the first half, scoring 15 on 6-of-8 shooting.
The Bobcats helped themselves stay in contention by committing only one turnover in the half. However, they couldn’t keep up with the running Suns, who outscored them 15-0 on fast-break points.
Charlotte sliced the deficit to three points, 65-62, early in the third period, but the Suns responded quickly with a 12-2 surge, highlighted by 3-pointers by Johnson and Marion.
Marion finished the quarter with 15 points and Phoenix led 93-79 after three. The highlight of the period, though, was a scintillating finger-roll dunk by Stoudemire.
Suns center Jake Voskuhl was placed on the injured list after undergoing emergency appendectomy surgery Friday, and guard Yuta Tabuse, sidelined since Nov. 8 with a right quadriceps injury, was activated. … Phoenix’s 113-110 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night drew the Suns’ highest television rating (8.0) in nearly two years. … Okafor is the first NBA rookie to be averaging a double-double since Elton Brand in 1999-2000, and his 11.2 rebounds per game are the most by a first-year player since Tim Duncan averaged 11.9 in 1997-98. … Nash and Marion are the only players on the same team to be averaging a double-double. No Suns team has finished a season with two players averaging a double-double since Connie Hawkins and Paul Silas in 1969-70, the franchise’s second season. … The Bobcats’ starting lineup of Okafor, Jason Kapono, Primoz Brezec, Knight and Keith Bogans was their ninth different opening combination this season.