HOUSTON (AP)—Trying to beat the buzzer at the end of the third quarter, Shawn Marion heaved a wild hook shot from the top of the key. The ball rattled around the rim and dropped in.
It was that kind of a night for the Phoenix Suns.
“I never felt the game was close,” Nash said. “We controlled the tempo all game.”
The scary part is they think they should’ve scored more—the accurate shooting masked 25 turnovers, also a season high.
“I don’t think we’re quite where we should be,” Marion said. “We’ve still got another notch to get to.”
Grant Hill also had 18 points for the Suns, who’ve won seven of the last eight meetings with Houston. Phoenix improved to 8-2, its best start since 2004-05.
Mike James scored 17 in place of Tracy McGrady, who missed his second straight game because of a sprained right elbow. Houston is 11-41 without McGrady since he joined the team before the 2004-05 season.
“We just swarmed him and tried to make it difficult for him,” said Marion. “We did the best we could. We just tried to make him feel uncomfortable.”
The Suns led 69-57 at halftime after shooting an astonishing 73 percent in the first half (27-of-37)—and only missing four shots inside the 3-point arc.
Phoenix missed 5 of its first 11 shots in the third quarter and Houston chipped away at the lead. Yao sank a free throw and James scored on a drive to pull the Rockets to 78-72.
Marion drove for a layup at the other end just five seconds later to start a decisive 16-4 Phoenix run. Marion had a two-handed dunk to put Phoenix up 88-72, then finished the third quarter with a wild hook shot from the top of the key that rattled in to put the Suns up 94-76.
The Rockets started the fourth quarter with a quick 9-0 burst. But Stoudemire scored twice to push the lead back over 10 and Nash’s fadeaway with 6:31 left put the Suns up 100-87. Phoenix is 8-0 this season when it reaches 100 points.
Already short-handed without McGrady, the Rockets were further depleted when Yao and Shane Battier each picked up their second fouls in the first six minutes of the game and went to the bench.
Phoenix outscored Houston 18-13 without them and led 37-30 after one quarter. The Suns shot 75 percent in the quarter (15-of-20) and their only misses came from 3-point range.
Steve Francis started the second quarter, his long-awaited debut with the Rockets. Francis signed a two-year deal in July, but had been relegated to the bench since the season began, the third-string point guard behind Rafer Alston and Mike James.
The fans cheered when Francis brought the ball up the court for the first time and they gasped when he drove the basket and took a hard foul from Boris Diaw. Francis sank two free throws with 10:32 left in the half to cut Houston’s deficit to 41-35.
“It’s been great,” Francis said of the crowd’s reaction. “They’ve been sticking behind me no matter what. Hopefully, this is a start for me to continue to get playing time, trying to help this team win.”
The Rockets closed to 44-42, but Nash returned after a long rest and Phoenix outscored Houston 25-15 the rest of the half.
Rockets coach Rick Adelman said McGrady is likely to play in Houston’s next game, against Dallas on Wednesday. “He really wants to play and I really want him to play,” Adelman said. “But the doctor is just not comfortable. He’s just thinking, if he gets a couple more days (to rest), it’s going to be much smarter and wiser on our part. So that’s what we’re going to do.” … Suns guard Raja Bell sat out with a sprained right ankle. D’Antoni was hoping Bell would be ready for the Suns’ next game, at Sacramento on Tuesday. “We do want to be cautious with it and we do have three days off until the next game,” D’Antoni said. … The Suns’ 69 first-half points were a season high. … The Rockets’ four-game losing streak is their longest since April 2006.