PHOENIX (AP)—The Phoenix Suns looked like a different team in interim coach Alvin Gentry’s debut.
Gentry tried to put the 140-100 rout of the hapless Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night in perspective.
“I like our effort and I like what we did,” Gentry said. “We’re not ready to crown ourselves NBA champs yet, OK?”
The Suns’ big win came at the expense of a Clippers squad without center Marcus Camby, out with an inner ear infection. The Clippers also played most of the game without leading scorer Zach Randolph, who was ejected in the first quarter after punching Phoenix reserve Louis Amundson.
Leandro Barbosa scored 24 points and Amare Stoudemire added 23 as the Suns began their second-half push for the postseason. They’re one game behind Utah in the race for the last Western Conference playoff spot.
One day after Gentry replaced Terry Porter, who was fired after a 28-23 start, the Suns wasted little time blowing out the Clippers. Reverting to its favored up-tempo style, Phoenix (29-23) raced to an 81-49 halftime lead— matching a U.S. Airways Center record for points in a half—and coasted from there.
Only the New York Knicks, led by former Suns coach Mike D’Antoni, have scored more points in a half this year—82, against Golden State on Nov. 29, 2008.
“They came out and started making shots,” Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. “They’re off to a good start.”
Returning from the All-Star break, Phoenix played with an energy that had been missing in recent weeks as the team struggled to adapt to Porter’s system, which emphasized defense and a halfcourt attack. He was fired on Sunday night in an uncomfortable sidelight to the NBA All-Star Game staged in the Suns’ building.
“It felt totally different,” Stoudemire said. “We felt relaxed, we felt poised and we just ran and played free.”
There was more defense in the NBA All-Star Game on the same floor 48 hours earlier.
Phoenix had scored 40 points in a quarter only twice in 51 games under Porter. The Suns did it in each of the first two against the Clippers.
The Suns shot 75.6 percent from the floor in the first half, with most of their buckets coming on layups and dunks. At halftime, Phoenix had more points in the paint (50) than the Clippers had total.
“Obviously, we didn’t have a whole lot of bigs,” Dunleavy said. “Zach getting thrown out of the game was just a nightmare for us trying to play against their size. That’s where it all kind of started for us.”
Eric Gordon had 24 points for the Clippers.
It was such a laugher that Shaq mooched some popcorn from a woman in courtside seats after a whistle.
But the game turned ugly late in the first quarter, when Amundson and Randolph became tangled up while going for a rebound.
Randolph knocked Amundson to the floor with his left elbow, then glared down at him. When Amundson stood to face Randolph, the Clippers forward threw a punch with his left hand and connected with a solid blow. He was immediately ejected.
“I’m not going to back down from anybody,” Amundson said. “I don’t care who you are in this league.”
Randolph said he was merely trying to push Amundson away.
“He hopped up and got in my face and almost kissed me in my mouth,” Randolph said. “I just pushed him out of my face.
“If I would have hit him, he wouldn’t have got up off the ground,” said Randolph, who is almost certain to be suspended.
Said Amundson: “I was getting in his face, but I wasn’t trying to kiss him.”
The incident enraged the crowd but didn’t ruin the party for the Suns.
The NBA schedulers gave Gentry the equivalent of a housewarming gift as he opens his tenure: back-to-back games against the Clippers and a home date with Oklahoma City. Both teams had 13 victories before the All-Star break.
The schedule toughens in the following two weeks, with a game against Eastern Conference-leading Boston, two with the Western Conference-leading Los Angeles Lakers and a four-game trip to Orlando, Miami, Houston and San Antonio.
Before Tuesday night’s game, Gentry met with reporters in the office occupied by Porter until last week and by Gentry’s previous boss, D’Antoni, for the previous four-plus seasons.
“It’s been a blur,” Gentry said. “It’s been kind of crazy, but it’s just kind of the way it works in this business. You have to accept it and move on.”
This was Gentry’s 404th game as an NBA head coach and his first since March 1, 2003, when he guided the Clippers. He also coached in Miami and Detroit. … The Suns were without guard Jason Richardson, who served a one-game suspension without pay “for conduct detrimental to the team.” Richardson was arrested on Sunday on allegations he was driving 55 mph above the limit with his unrestrained 3-year-old son in the car. Richardson also was cited Dec. 21 on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol.