PHOENIX (AP)—The Phoenix Suns have got it in high gear again, just in time for the playoffs.
Amare Stoudemire scored 22 of his 38 points in a spectacular third quarter and the Suns moved within a game of clinching home court advantage throughout the playoffs with a 116-98 victory over Sacramento on Saturday night.
“We had a good time tonight,” Stoudemire said.
Combining thunderous, acrobatic dunks with outside jumpers, Stoudemire made nine of 10 shots in the third, when the Suns opened a 27-point lead en route to their fourth win in a row. His only miss in the quarter was a 3-point try at the buzzer.
“That was us at our best,” Steve Nash said. “Hopefully we can have some of that in the playoffs, but at the same time be able to grind it out because it’s not always going to be like that.”
Joe Johnson scored 22 points and Shawn Marion and Leandro Barbosa added 17 apiece in the Suns’ 61st victory of the season, one shy of the franchise record. Phoenix leads San Antonio by two games for the NBA’s best record with two to play. One Suns’ victory or Spurs’ loss will ensure Phoenix the best record in the league.
“Amare was dominant, obviously,” Suns coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We moved the ball well, which is key. The offense just flowed better. You saw them looking for everybody. Now we need one more win, and Monday needs to be the day.”
The Suns play Denver Monday night in their final home game of the regular season.
Stoudemire, Marion and Nash sat out the fourth quarter after the Suns took a 99-73 lead after three.
Sacramento, which entered the game with a four-game winning streak, was without Peja Stojakovic, who left Friday night’s victory over the Los Angeles Lakers with a strained left groin. The Kings fell into a tie with Houston for the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference, one game ahead of Denver.
“I don’t like getting embarrassed,” Bibby said, “and I was embarrassed tonight.”
Quentin Richardson was back for the Suns after missing two games with a sprained left ankle. After missing 13 shots in a row, dating to before he was injured, he hit a 3-pointer that put Phoenix up 54-47 with 3:32 in the first half. Marion scored four points in the final 30 seconds of the half to make it 62-52 at the break.
“The first half, when we had our chances there, we didn’t keep our focus in the transition defense at all,” Sacramento coach Rick Adelman said. “In the third quarter, we talked about coming out and getting the first spurt, and they got it. They just came out and finished the game.”
After a few sputtering, if victorious performances, the Suns turned it on in a third-quarter rush that buried the Kings in an avalanche of fast-break dunks and outside shots. Stoudemire scored the final nine points in a 25-6 outburst, with the last basket one of the highlights of Phoenix’s remarkable turnaround season.
On a fast break, Johnson brought the ball downcourt and passed it beneath the basket to Nash. Nash barely touched it on a tip pass high above the rim to Stoudemire, who caught it and slammed it home one-handed to make it 89-63.
“That was pretty sweet,” Stoudemire said. “He threw it up to Seve, and Steve threw it up to me. I didn’t he was throwing to be honest with you, then I saw it float in the air for a second so I went up and got it.”
Marion said the play materialized over his head, and he almost went up after the pass until he saw Stoudemire “coming out of nowhere.”
“That happens sometimes,” Stoudemire said, “I’ve got a tendency to jump over some guys’ heads and throw it down.”
Stoudemire’s 19-footer boosted it to 94-67 and his 16-footer put Phoenix up 96-69.
Nash called Stoudemire “up there with the greatest athletes the game has ever seen. He’s got big hands, he’s tough and he’s improving his skills. It’s a lot of fun to have him on our team.”
If the Suns win their final two games, they will break the franchise mark for best record of 62-20, set by the 1992-93 team that made it to the NBA Finals. Saturday’s victory tied Phoenix with the 1979-80 Boston Celtics for the third-largest turnaround in league history at 32 games. The Suns’ 29-53 record last season was the third-worst in franchise history.
Both teams were playing for the second night in a row. … Kings coach Rick Adelman and Suns coach Mike D’Antoni were roommates as players with the Kansas City Kings. … The teams meet again in their regular-season finale Wednesday night. … Adelman said Stojakovic won’t play the remaining two games of the regular season. … Sacramento needs to win one of its next two to top 50 victories for the fifth consecutive 50-win season.