PHOENIX (AP)—Amare Stoudemire had a message for the Western Conference on Thursday night.
Stoudemire, who missed the Suns’ first 66 games after undergoing surgery on his left knee Oct. 11, was 7-of-14 from the floor. His fired-up teammates responded by scoring 76 first-half points, most in the NBA this season.
“This is a great start,” Phoenix coach Mike D’Antoni said. “I’m pretty jacked up.”
Stoudemire was among seven Suns who scored in double figures—Shawn Marion also had 20—as Phoenix snapped a two-game losing streak.
Viktor Khryapa scored 22 points and had 12 rebounds for Portland, which lost its sixth straight game since defeating the Suns in Portland on March 12. The Trail Blazers are 3-20 since Feb. 3.
There had been concerns about how Stoudemire, who had not played in 294 days, might mesh with the league’s highest-scoring offense. But it didn’t take him long to join the flow.
After the U.S. Airways Center sellout crowd of 18,422 welcomed him with a standing ovation, Stoudemire opened the Suns’ scoring with an 18-foot jump shot.
“When I first started, I just wanted to get myself going,” Stoudemire said. “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.”
Stoudemire’s second basket came on a trademark put-back; he drew a foul on Khryapa and hit the free throw. Stoudemire scored on another offensive rebound a minute later.
Stoudemire’s inside muscle was a welcome contribution for a Suns team that came into the game averaging 9.48 offensive rebounds per game, fewest in the NBA. The 6-foot-10 Stoudemire replaced 6-8 James Jones at forward in the starting lineup.
With Stoudemire dominating, the Suns sprinted to a 19-10 lead by the time he went to the bench with 6:46 to play in the first quarter.
The Suns sagged when Stoudemire sat down. Portland had pulled to within 49-47 before Stoudemire returned with 7:48 to go in the second quarter. On the Suns’ first possession, Stoudemire feinted a drive past center Brian Skinner, stepped back and hit a 15-foot jumper.
With Stoudemire on the floor in the first half, Phoenix outscored Portland 34-15. Without him, the Blazers outscored the Suns 48-42. Phoenix led 76-63 at halftime.
“When he rolls down the middle, he definitely creates some situations for people, and we can play off that,” D’Antoni said.
Stoudemire dunked only once, in the fourth quarter. But he attributed that to the flow of the game and said he wasn’t reluctant to attempt the explosive leaps that make him one of the NBA’s most feared players.
“I’m not really banking on dunking,” he said. “As long as I do what I can do to contribute to this team, I’m all set.”
Stoudemire said he was relieved to be part of the team again after a long and often discouraging rehabilitation.
“It was tough,” Stoudemire said. “There were some days where I felt I wasn’t going to come back this year. There were some days when I felt like I was ready to come back tomorrow. But it was just frustrating because you have up days and down days on a consistent basis.”
Without Stoudemire, the Suns cruised to first place in the Pacific Division and are close to locking up the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference playoffs. With him, the Suns may be ready to make a run at the franchise’s first NBA title.
“I think it’s time for us to rededicate ourselves to reach a championship level,” he said.
But Stoudemire may experience a few setbacks before he can consistently play at an All-Star level.
“Ask me next week, too,” D’Antoni said. “He’s got some dog days ahead of him.”
Phoenix’s 76-point first half was two points more than the previous NBA high this year, set by Charlotte against the Suns on Feb. 25. … Suns guard Steve Nash is shooting a career-high 51.2 percent from the floor, 42.8 percent from beyond the arc and 90 percent at the free throw line. Only three NBA players have averaged more than 50 percent from the field, 40 percent or more from 3-point range and 90 percent from the line in a season: Reggie Miller with Indiana in 1993-94, Mark Price with Cleveland in 1988-89 and Larry Bird with Boston in 1986-87 and 1987-88. … Phoenix forward Shawn Marion has 52 double-doubles, one short of a career high set last season. … The last time the Blazers came to Phoenix, they absorbed a 130-85 loss, the fourth-worst in franchise history.