The Phoenix Suns didn't hit as many baskets as usual on Sunday night (looks weird to see a double-digit score beside their name, doesn't it?), but they stepped up their defense enough to knock off the Portland Trail Blazers 93-87.
It was the fourth-straight win of their seven-game homestand, which came to an end on Sunday and included a 110-100 win over the Utah Jazz on Friday night, and it was enough to push the Suns past the Oklahoma City Thunder and into fifth place in the Western Conference playoff picture.
The Suns, the best shooting team in the NBA, hit only 38.3 percent of their field goals on Sunday, but they held the Blazers to just 36.3 percent shooting. The Suns actually entered the fourth quarter with a four-point deficit but flipped the switch to outscore Portland 29-19 in the final period of what coach Alvin Gentry described as a "grind-it-out game." The Suns' win stopped the Blazers' five-game winning streak.
Suns superstar Amar'e Stoudemire was held to only 18 points, but the forward was big with 14 rebounds. Grant Hill was huge on the glass, too, pulling down 11 boards, which was double his season average of 5.5 per game.
The Suns' starters, save one, also did a great job of staying out of foul trouble, keeping the Blazers away from the free-throw line. When Portland did take foul shots, they were fairly pitiful, making only 21 of 29, while the Suns hit 24 of 26 free-throw attempts.
Steve Nash, who sat out a large chunk of the first quarter after quickly incurring two fouls, wound up contributing 17 points and eight assists in only 31 minutes of play. And Jason Richardson had 16 points (on only 6 of 15 shooting). The only downside of the win was the play of centers of Robin Lopez and Channing Frye, who combined for only 10 points on 4 of 15 shooting. Frye, however, pulled down 10 rebounds.
The Suns have 12 games left, including one tonight against the awful Golden State Warriors on the road. In fact, the Suns' next six games, even though five of which are on the road, are against vastly inferior teams. They enter tonight one game out of the fourth seed in the West and 2.5 games out of the third, currently held by the Jazz and Dallas Mavericks, respectively. Utah plays the Boston Celtics tonight, and the Mavs play the New Orleans Hornets.
Tipoff: 7:30 p.m. in Oakland. TV: My45 (channel 9). Radio: KTAR 620 AM. More info: www.suns.com