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Suns dump Clippers, improve to 2-0 under Hunter

The SportsXchange

PHOENIX -- It's a long climb back to respectability for the basement-dwelling Phoenix Suns. However, the first 48 hours of Lindsey Hunter's interim head coaching career produced something that the team hadn't accomplished since before Christmas -- back-to-back wins.

Goran Dragic scored 19 of his 24 points in the first half, and Marcin Gortat added 15 points as the Suns followed up Wednesday's win in Sacramento in Hunter's coaching debut with a 93-88 win over the banged-up and slumping Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday.

"This season has been so crazy, and to win a couple of games really feels great," said Dragic, who was limping on a sore hip re-injured after a collision with the Clippers' Caron Butler late in the game. "We're going step by step and game by game. We've won two, but it's not a good picture yet."

Luis Scola and Markieff Morris had 14 points apiece for Phoenix, which was 13-28 and had lost 13 of its past 15 games before Alvin Gentry was fired last Friday. The Suns have now won back-to-back games for the first time since winning four straight from Dec. 12-19.

"Our focus is to create a defensive mentality and a defensive presence," Hunter said. "That's the type of effort we want, and we are going to build something special."

Phoenix had been 0-8 in the second of back-to-back games this season before winning the nationally televised game over the Clippers (32-12). Against both the Kings and the Clippers, second-half defense played a key role. On Thursday, the Suns held Los Angeles to 39.8 percent shooting for the game.

Jamal Crawford had 21 points off the bench and Eric Bledsoe scored 15 for the Clippers, who have lost three straight games for the first time since losing four in a row in late November. Los Angeles' offense was out of sync all night as the team played for the fifth time in the past seven games without star guard Chris Paul. Power forward Blake Griffin was hobbling due to a left ankle problem.

"We had a good defensive game plan tonight," Phoenix guard Jared Dudley said. "We concentrated on slowing them down and making Bledsoe be a jump shooter. We tried to limit touches for the big guys, especially Blake and (DeAndre) Jordan, to prevent easy dunks. We've simplified things, dummied down the defense and (got) back to basics."

Griffin finished with 12 points and eight rebounds. He missed six of eight free throws.

"I really injured (the ankle) three days ago against Golden State," Griffin said. "It got better, but I kind of re-tweaked it. To me, ankles are one of those things were you just have to tolerate the pain."

The Suns led 86-79 after a Gortat layup with three minutes left, but the Clippers answered with six straight points. The run was capped by Crawford's 3-pointer with 26.9 seconds left -- the first Los Angeles field goal in more than four minutes -- cutting the deficit to one point.

However, Phoenix hit five of six free throws late to seal the win, with a clear-path foul on Butler against Shannon Brown with 15.4 seconds left the clincher. Brown hit two free throws, and Morris added another less than a second later.

"Dragic got loose too much on us in the first half, and we had opportunities in the second half but we didn't shoot the ball well," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. "We have to be a little sharper, especially in the fourth quarter. We have to be able to close some games out."

The Suns have only 15 wins, but five of them have come against Western Conference teams with 20-plus wins (the Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz).

"I don't feel comfortable saying we fixed the (defensive) problem," Scola said. "We've had some good games and we've beat good teams. Our challenge now is to have many good games in a row and accumulate some good performances. We have to go to San Antonio (on Saturday) and do it again."

NOTES: With Gentry fired and assistants Dan Majerle and Elston Turner both leaving, Hunter's coaching staff now consists of Igor Kokoskov, Noel Gillespie and Dan Panaggio. ... Hunter said he was nervous and anxious for his NBA coaching debut in Sacramento, but he had a lot of fun. "It's funny. I was thinking about coaching my kids in high school and AAU and it's basically the same thing, on a different scale," he said. "But basically the same thing. So that's how I treated it." ... Hunter played for Del Negro in Chicago, and he played with Clippers veteran Grant Hill in Detroit ... In the Sacramento game, the Suns had a season-high 14 steals and forced a season-high 25 turnovers. The Clippers headed into the Thursday leading the NBA in both categories -- making 10.4 steals a game and forcing 17 turnovers. ... The Suns' comeback from 10 down in Sacramento was their seventh double-digit comeback win this season. Only Utah (10), Houston (eight) and Milwaukee (eight) have more.

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