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Nash dishes out 17 assists in Suns' win over Lakers

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Phoenix Suns almost blew another big
fourth-quarter lead.

But not quite.

Shawn Marion had 30 points and 11 rebounds, Steve Nash had 17
assists to go with 12 points, and the Suns held off the weary Los
Angeles Lakers
122-112 on Thursday night.

The Suns, who blew a 17-point lead in the fourth period before
losing 111-108 to Dallas in double overtime Tuesday night to start
the season, led by 17 with 8½ minutes left in this game.

The Kobe Bryant-led Lakers got as close as three points before
the Suns scored the game's final seven points.

James Jones added 17 points, including a game-turning 3-pointer;
Raja Bell and Kurt Thomas each scored 14; Leandro Barbosa had 12,
and Eddie House scored 10 for the Suns.

"We maybe learned a little bit from the first game, where we
had them beat and couldn't withstand the flurry at the end," Nash
said. "But we're improving, and that's a good sign.

"Anytime people step up at the end of games to close teams out,
that's the sign of a good team. We had a couple of guys who made
some big plays and made us a winner tonight."

Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said the difference near the end of the
two games wasn't difficult to figure out.

"We didn't hit the big shots against Dallas. We did tonight,"
he said.

Bryant led the Lakers with 39 points, seven rebounds and five
assists. Lamar Odom had 23 points, 16 rebounds and eight assists,
and Smush Parker matched his career high with 21 points.

The game was the Lakers' home opener, and their first
regular-season game at Staples Center since Phil Jackson was
rehired as coach. They opened the season with a 99-97 overtime
victory in Denver on Wednesday night and didn't arrive back in Los
Angeles until 3 a.m.

Jackson received a loud ovation before the opening tip -- not
long after saying fans attend NBA games to watch the players, not
the coaches.

"The excitement is on the floor," he said.

Afterward, Jackson said he was pleased with the Lakers' effort --
especially in the fourth quarter.

"They are obviously a better team now than we are," he said.
"They played better than we did tonight, that's for sure.

"For a losing cause, I enjoyed the game. Smush Parker played an
entertaining game. We played with a sense of purpose. We just
didn't get it done down the crunch."

The Lakers won only 34 games last season and missed the playoffs
for just the second time since 1976.

As they did in the second and third quarters, the Suns dominated
in the first few minutes of the final period, outscoring the Lakers
11-2 for a 106-89 lead with 9:09 remaining.

It was 108-91 when the Lakers went on a 12-2 run, making it
110-103. The Suns extended the lead to nine before Los Angeles went
on a 7-1 run to draw within three points with 2:11 remaining.

But the Lakers wouldn't score again.

Jones made a 3-pointer with 1:57 left, Bell added a jumper with
51 seconds to play, and Nash made two free throws with 30 seconds
remaining to complete the scoring.

"I think their experience kicked in and overwhelmed us a bit
tonight," Bryant said. "We kept fighting back and did some great
things with our execution. Our inexperience on defense hurt us, as
they were spreading the floor extremely well and getting good looks
at the basket."

The Lakers had won 12 of their previous 13 home openers.

The Suns outscored Los Angeles 9-3 to start the third quarter
for a 75-59 lead. With Odom scoring seven points and Parker adding
five, the Lakers went on a 12-2 run to draw within six points. It
was 95-87 entering the final period.

Phoenix scored the first 10 points of the second quarter to take
a 41-30 lead. The Lakers got as close as two points before the Suns
extended their lead to 66-56 at halftime.

Bryant scored 17 points in the first quarter including 13
straight for the Lakers at one stage. He lost his cool late in the
period, drawing a technical foul for shoving Bell after being
fouled.

Game notes
Lakers F Luke Walton, who injured his left hamstring Oct.
11 in his team's first preseason game, was cleared to practice
starting Friday. "The last five or six days, I've been running.
The last two days, I've been running pretty hard," he said, adding
there was no timetable for his return. ... The Suns swept the
Lakers last season, winning the four games by an average of 11
points. The Lakers won six of the previous seven games between the
teams. ... Chris Mihm was replaced in the Lakers' starting lineup
by Devean George. Mihm started all 75 games he played in last
season -- his first with the Lakers -- as well as the season opener
in Denver. He wound up getting three points and two rebounds in 14
minutes. ... Former Boston Celtics star Bill Russell and San
Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds were among those in
attendance. "Everybody's got to be someplace," Russell said with
a smile when asked what brought him to the game.