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Suns' Dragic gets 'little payback' in beating Rockets

The SportsXchange

PHOENIX -- Was a little payback on a few minds in the Phoenix Suns' locker room?

The team's floor leader played like it down the stretch, as Goran Dragic scored 13 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter as Phoenix overcame a 38-point outburst by Houston's James Harden to pull out a 107-105 win over the Rockets on Saturday night at US Airways Center.

Both Suns forwards Luis Scola and Marcus Morris were also with Houston until this season, but it was Dragic -- whom Houston let go in free agency last summer -- who played the part of possessed point guard. Silent through most of the first three quarters, Dragic fueled the Suns' final run with four minutes left in the fourth quarter and made 5 of 6 free throws in the game's final minute.

"Everyone was so hyped before the game," Dragic said. "You always want to play good against your old team. It feels great."

Jared Dudley, who's alternated between the starting lineup and the bench, poured in 22 points and seven assists for his sixth 20-point effort this season (first in a reserve role). Both Markieff Morris (14 points, five rebounds) and 7-foot Iranian center Hamed Haddadi (11 rebounds, three blocked shots) were integral for Phoenix in stopping a two-game losing streak and keeping the Suns (22-41) out of last place in the Western Conference.

Haddadi, who didn't see the floor in February (and barely played when he did see action), was thrust into significant minutes when starting center Marcin Gortat suffered a season-ending ankle injury last week. Reserve Jermaine O'Neal remains out after his daughter underwent heart surgery.

Though limited offensively, Haddadi -- who wears No. 98 -- played a career-high 28 minutes off the bench. His 11 rebounds, three blocks and numerous other tipped balls helped keep possessions alive for the Suns.

"He played better than he looks," joked Dudley. "... If it wasn't for him, we don't win this game."

Dudley credited the Suns' rebounding (47-39 advantage) and transition game for his night's success, while Kendall Marshall (nine points, four assists off the bench), Michael Beasley (10 points) and P.J. Tucker (10 rebounds) joined him and Haddadi for a 55-point outing from reserves. A Suns' defense which allowed Sacramento to shoot 55 percent in Friday night's loss to the Kings forced the second-best fastbreak team in the NBA into a half-court game.

"We got the win and we have to continue to get better and figure out how we can stop guys from shooting this way against us," Suns coach Lindsey Hunter said. "But we'll take the win and continue to work."

Harden, who played two years of college basketball 20 minutes away from the arena at Arizona State, hit 11-of-17 shots (7 of 10 from behind the arc) and had eight assists, but also eight turnovers. The loss prevented Houston from moving closer to the No. 6 spot in the Western Conference playoff picture. However, they were aided by Utah losing ahead of the surging L.A. Lakers.

"Times like this, we need wins," Harden said. "We let another one slip away from us."

Despite Harden, 21 points from Carlos Delfino off the bench, and the Rockets hitting 19 of 41 from behind the arc, foul trouble hampered point guard Jeremy Lin in the second half. Houston also committed 19 turnovers and allowed Phoenix back into the game in the first half when the Suns went on a 16-0 run.

Harden fueled a mini-spurt which pulled Houston to within one point, but Dragic scored four consecutive points and Marcus Morris' put-back gave Phoenix a 99-93 lead. The Rockets came up empty on five consecutive possessions in that span until a Harden free throw with 1:27 left.

The Suns missed on the ensuing possession but corralled the offensive rebound and Dragic hit a fadeaway jumper to make it 101-93 with 45 seconds left. After Harden hit his sixth 3-pointer of the night, Dragic hit both free throws for a 103-96 lead with 26 seconds left.

The Suns were 25 of 39 from the free-throw line, while Houston was 12 of 18.

"There are a million different reasons you can lose in the NBA," Houston coach Kevin McHale said. "You can find an excuse for everything. No excuses. They played better than us. Goran down the stretch made some big plays. We did not execute very well. We did not defend very well. We did not take care of the ball. We did not rebound. There is a lot of stuff we didn't do."

Both teams began the fourth quarter with hot shooting, but the Suns went on a 9-2 push to bump their lead to 93-86 with 5:46 left in the game when Kendall Marshall banked in a long jumper to beat the shot clock after a loose-ball scramble. But Harden responded with a 3-pointer and, a couple possessions later, a drive which culminated with a three-point play to make it 93-92 with four minutes to play.

With Houston point guard Jeremy Lin on the bench for the final seven minutes of the third quarter with four fouls, Harden scored 12 points in the period and the

Rockets used their patented outside shooting (6 of 12 from behind the arc in the quarter) to briefly re-claim the lead, but a 3-pointer by Michael Beasley to end the quarter allowed Phoenix to re-take the lead at 77-76 entering the fourth. Lin fouled out in the closing seconds with 11 points, four assists and five turnovers.

The team's traded baskets -- and leads -- for the next eight minutes until Dragic took over.

"I think he wanted a little payback," Dudley said of his teammate. "I'm happy for him."

NOTES: Scola and Marcus Morris faced their former team on Saturday night. Scola spent his first five years in the NBA with Houston before being released last summer. ... After scoring 26 points (including 6 of 8 from 3-point range) in Houston's win over Golden State on Friday night, Rockets forward Parsons is averaging 24.3 points on 63.6 percent shooting from the field -- 61.4 percent (27 of 44) from beyond the arc -- in the past six games. ... Dragic had a career-high five steals in Friday night's loss at Sacramento. He's one of six players in the league averaging 14 points, seven assists and 1.5 steals per game (James, Russell Westbrook, Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson and Jeff Teague). Dragic also entered Saturday night's game with an NBA-best 97 assists since the All-Star break. ... Including Saturday night's matchup, Phoenix and Houston will play each other four times in the next 36 days after not meeting once in the season's first 62 games.
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