MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—The running, smiling, high-scoring Phoenix Suns looked once again as though they were just having fun on the playground.
It’s an invincible feeling the Minnesota Timberwolves so badly want to rediscover.
Amare Stoudemire had 23 points, five of his teammates scored in double digits and the Suns beat the scuffling Timberwolves 108-79 on Wednesday night.
“That team reminds me of how we played last year, with our confidence,” Minnesota’s Fred Hoiberg said. “They expect to win every time they step on the floor.”
Phoenix, which led by 40 points late in the third quarter, handed the Timberwolves the fourth-largest home loss in franchise history.
“We were up by 40 and had a chance to go up 50, maybe even 60,” Stoudemire said. “But we took the fourth quarter off.”
Wally Szczerbiak scored 16 points, and Trenton Hassell had 14 for Minnesota — which went 3-for-21 from 3-point range and tied a team record by attempting only five free throws. The Suns shot 8-for-10 from behind the arc in the third quarter after starting the second half with an 11-0 run.
“We really poured it on,” Richardson said. “Coaches told us to make sure not to have any slippage, and we continued to try to put it on them. … It was nice to see us tonight do what most veteran teams do—put teams away and keep a team away.”
After falling to .500 two weeks ago, the Timberwolves suggested they were pointed in the right direction by winning five in a row. But a pair of sluggish third-quarter performances (Sunday against Sacramento and Tuesday in Milwaukee) led to consecutive losses, and the latest dud seemed to put them right back where they started.
Kevin Garnett scored a season-low 12 points and had 13 rebounds for Minnesota, which fell to 24-22 and is in ninth place in the Western Conference with the playoffs not all that far away.
“You have some clouds in your coffee sometimes,” Garnett said. “It’s not easy right now.”
Phoenix (37-11), meanwhile, moved within a half-game of San Antonio for the league’s best record. The Suns, who averaged more than 122 points in their five victories on the trip, were still enjoying themselves in the locker room afterward.
“We left a lot of roadkill on this trip,” Richardson said, reflecting on the nicknames of recent foes. “We killed some Bucks, some Wolves. We missed out on the bear, the Grizzly bear.”
Added Stoudemire: “We got a Raptor. Took care of that.”
With the memory of a 122-115 home loss on Jan. 4 to the Suns still relatively fresh, the Timberwolves realized they needed to control the tempo and keep their speedy opponent from finding uncontested shots and running up and down the court for easy points.
That never happened.
Whether it was purely the Suns’ prowess or simply their own deficiencies, the Wolves just didn’t seem capable of coming back and making a game of it.
“Right now we’re not a good basketball team,” said coach Flip Saunders, who led his team to the West’s best regular-season record and a spot in the conference finals in 2004. “This isn’t last year. We’re fighting for our lives.”
A sure sign things were going bad for the Wolves: Hoiberg, the league’s most accurate 3-point shooter at better than 51 percent, missed a pair of wide-open shots from long range on the same possession.
Soon after, Marion made consecutive 3-pointers—the last one a shot from the corner that glanced off the top of the backboard and fell through the net to make it 81-51 with 4:41 left in the period.
Less than a minute later, Richardson banked in a 26-footer. Two minutes after that, consecutive 3-pointers by Jim Jackson gave the Suns a 91-51 advantage.
Latrell Sprewell was replaced by Szczerbiak in the starting lineup because he missed the team’s return flight from Milwaukee. Saunders said it was a miscommunication and not a big issue. … Phoenix had four players grab seven rebounds or more. … Garnett had to call a 20-second timeout late in the first quarter after an elbow to the head from Steven Hunter, who was jockeying for defensive position in the post. Following a sustained grimace, Garnett was fine. … The Suns are 6-2 since Nash returned from a back injury. … Minnesota’s Sam Cassell did not return after bruising his right shoulder in the first half. The 35-year-old point guard missed 10 games last month because of a strained right hamstring.