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Suns Come Up Big on (Gasp!) D and Beat Rockets to Grab Best NBA Record Early On

Okay, there are 70 games to go in the regular season -- not to mention more in the playoffs (prayerfully) -- but the Phoenix Suns beat the Houston Rockets 111-105 last night to achieve the best record in the NBA so far at 10-2.

No matter what the Beantowners and Angelenos say, damn it, we're going to enjoy it as long as it lasts! As for the LeBron James and Dwight Howard crowds, they can jam a jock-strap in it, too.

Whatever you want to scream about the Suns this year (they're not big enough, two of their starters are ancient, one of them never lives up to his potential, and one of them is prone to stupid off-court problems), they're playing with passion.

Except for their two lopsided road losses to the Orlando Magic and the Los Angeles Lakers (2009 NBA Finals opponents) after playing the night before on both occasions, the Suns have looked like actual contenders. 

We didn't think we'd be writing the above after the first quarter concluded last night in the Bayou City -- the Rockets had hit five three-pointers in a row and jumped out to a 34-22 lead. But the Suns did what they've done frequently this season. They stepped up on defense, the result being that they kept the score close for the remainder of the evening.

It was a seesaw battle through the second half before the Suns managed to hustle up a five-seven point lead in the final couple of minutes, winding up winning by six on a pivotal three-point basket by Phoenix's own Channing Frye and gutsy under-the-basket buckets by reserve center Jarron Collins.

It was Collins, the long-time Utah Jazz big man who has played precious little as a Sun in this young season, who turned in six points, six rebounds, and two steals in 12 minutes -- his most impressive effort coming when it counted at the end of the game

It was clear that -- along with Jared Dudley and Lou Amundson -- the 6-foot-11, 250-pound Collins gives the Suns something they've lacked in past seasons: muscle inside off the bench. Dudley played his usual fierce game, jerking loose balls away from Rockets players. He had eight points, six rebounds, and two assists in 18 minutes.

Collins, known for his physicality in the paint, told Suns broadcasters that he loves playing for Coach Alvin Gentry, only (he grinned), "There's a lot of running involved."

But enough about the battling bench that has been the difference in half of the Suns' victories this season.

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Two-time league Most Valuable Player Steve Nash, who's in the MVP conversation again this year, passed up offense for the most part last night (scoring 12 points in 37 minutes), but the 35-year-old made plays like he'd guzzled from the Fountain of Youth, finishing with 16 assists.

Amar'e Stoudemire was the second-highest scorer with 23 points, topped only by Houston's Carl Landry with 27 off the bench. Stoudemire's rebounding numbers have been down this season, maybe because he's had more help on the boards. Five Suns had five rebounds or more, including Stoudemire with six and Grant Hill with seven.

The Rockets played without center Yao Ming and forward Tracy McGrady, who haven't returned from injuries, but the absence of the two stars didn't keep Houston from shocking Kobe Bryant and the defending-champion Lakers 101-91 Sunday. With the loss last night, the Rockets are 6-5. 

Next up for the Suns: the New Orleans Hornets on the road. Tip-off's at 6 p.m. Thursday in a nationally televised game (TV: TNT. Radio: KTAR 6:20 a.m.) Star point guard Chris Paul will miss the game because of an ankle injury. Even with Paul playing, Phoenix blew out the Hornets 124-104 at US Airways Center last week, so this should be a taking-care-of- business contest for the Suns. For more information, go to www.nba.com/suns.    

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