Phoenix Suns Hold Off Boris Diaw, Raja Bell, and the Charlotte Hornets 112-102

There were hugs all around, before Tuesday night's game got started and after the final buzzer.

Raja Bell and Boris Diaw seemed happy to be back home in Phoenix, even if they are now starters for head coach Larry Brown's Charlotte Bobcats.

So much so that they were the high scorers in the game: Bell had 23 points and Diaw had 27 and 10 rebounds.

There were times when we thought their passion might allow the 22-35 Bobcats to overtake the 32-24 Suns and win at US Airways Center.

We know "passion" is a strange word to use when it comes to Diaw, but remember it was his big game when the two teams played in Charlotte on January 23 that led to a 22-point stomping of our team.


But the bigger factor back then was most of the Phoenix roster's disdain for now-fired head coach Terry Porter. The Suns had a tendency, in the month before Porter was replaced by long-time Suns assistant Alvin Gentry, to just go through the motions of being professional basketball players.

The Suns were playing to win Tuesday night. Though the Bobcats came within four points a couple of times, the Suns didn't lose the lead from late in the first quarter on. Their biggest advantage over the 'Cats was 18.

The home crowd went from roar to hush in the third period when Steve Nash, after nailing a three-pointer, wound up on the floor grimacing in pain. He was helped off the court and went to the locker room with an ankle injury. He played briefly a little later but came out of the game again, hobbling.

Nash's status is uncertain for Thursday's game with the league-leading Los Angeles Lakers -- though the injury wasn't (pending examination today) expected to keep him out for more than a game, if at all.

Before his final exit, the two-time MVP point guard was the big factor for his team, scoring 22 points, four of four of them on 3s.

Jason Richardson, who came to Phoenix along with Jared Dudley in the trade for Bell and Diaw, scored 20 points, as did Shaquille O'Neal, who also had 11 rebounds. Leandro Barbosa had 17 points and Matt Barnes 14.

Turnovers were again a problem for the Suns, after getting that Achilles heal in check in three of the four previous games. The fatal flaw started to rear its head in Phoenix's 20-point loss to the Boston Celtics last Sunday. The Suns had 15 in that game, and they increased the total to 19 against Charlotte.

Both Richardson and Nash have come down wrong on ankles in the last few games, which means the Suns won't be anywhere near full strength when they meet Kobe Bryant and the Lakers tomorrow night at Staples Center. Amar'e Stoudemire is already out for what's expected to be the rest of the season with a detached retina.

It will help that Lakers starting center Andrew Bynum is still sidelined with a knee injury. We're hoping All-Star Shaq will have the monster game he's capable of against the reedy Pao Gasol, and whoever else Coach Phil Jackson throws at the Big Twitterer.

The Suns play the Lakers again here Sunday afternoon, and it's important that they win one of the two games. If they're to get into the playoffs, they can't just beat bad teams like Charlotte, Oklahoma City, the Clippers, and the 23-36 Toronto Raptors, who hit town to play the Suns Friday night. They need to win at least half of their games against the league's elite (they're out of the picture now) to have a chance at the post-season.

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