HOUSTON (AP)—A year removed from one of the worst seasons in franchise history, the Phoenix Suns are now winning even when they’re road-weary and their best player has an off-night.
Shawn Marion scored 22 points, Quentin Richardson added 18 points and 14 rebounds and the Suns effortlessly bounced back from a draining victory in Minnesota the night before with a 108-98 win over the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night.
“We weren’t sharp. Maybe it was fatigue,” said point guard Steve Nash, an offseason acquisition from Dallas who is perhaps the biggest reason the Suns are 16 games ahead of last year’s pace. “But we were good enough. That’s what we’ve done a lot this year. We make enough shots and do just enough to give ourselves a chance.”
Amare Stoudemire finally cooled off after a torrid two-game stretch in which he scored a total of 84 points, finishing with just 19 points on 5-of-15 shooting and nine rebounds.
But his Suns teammates picked up the slack and rolled to a relatively easy victory despite coming off an emotional 122-115 win at Minnesota the night before. Houston, meanwhile, had been off for two days since a 99-80 win over Utah and hasn’t played a road game since Dec. 29.
“We were coming off back-to-backs and they’ve been here waiting for us for a couple of days,” Marion said. “But we came out and put them back on their heels.”
Nash had 12 points and 13 assists, Joe Johnson had 17 points and 12 rebounds and Casey Jacobsen tied a season high with 14 points for the Suns, who won their fourth straight to improve their NBA-best record to 28-4.
In a matchup between the NBA’s youngest team (Phoenix) and its oldest (Houston), the Suns jumped out to a big early lead, Houston gamely fought back and the Suns were ultimately able to pull away.
Phoenix showed few signs of fatigue from their grueling victory over the Timberwolves on Tuesday night and a plane trip that didn’t get them into Houston until the wee hours of the morning.
Regardless, the Suns ran Houston ragged from the opening tipoff.
“It’s tough to get back up emotionally like we did,” Suns coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We expended a lot of energy (in Minnesota), but somehow, they found some more tonight.”
Johnson scored 11 points in the game’s first four minutes, including three 3s, to help the Suns race out to an early 22-8 lead. The Rockets never really recovered from such a deep, early hole.
Bob Sura hit a jumper to move the Rockets within 74-71 late in the third quarter, but Jacobsen quickly responded with another 3 and Houston never got any closer the rest of the way.
Phoenix put on quite a shooting display against one of the league’s best defensive teams, going 15-of-34 from behind the arc. They finished one 3-pointer shy of their season best of 16 against the Lakers on Dec. 8 and tied their season high of 34 attempts.
“There is no answer to our fast-paced offense when we are making shots,” Marion said.
McGrady was pretty much the Rockets’ lone, consistent offensive option. And even he struggled to keep up with the Suns’ frenetic, 3-point heaving ways.
At one point in the second half, McGrady missed 11 straight shots. He went only 8-of-25 from the field, but had nine rebounds and five assists.
“I’ve never seen a team that keeps you back on your heels when you make a shot,” McGrady said. “We’re not used to that. Those guys get the ball out and they’re gone. It was crazy tonight. You’re just glad that every NBA team isn’t like that.”
Meanwhile, Yao didn’t take his first shot until nearly seven minutes into the game, and was taken out just a few seconds later. He didn’t return until midway through the second quarter.
Phoenix improved its record to 16-2 in back-to-back games. …The Rockets have lost four straight to the Suns. … Suns backup point guard Leandro Barbosa did not travel to Houston because he has chicken pox. Barbosa isn’t expected back with the team until Saturday.