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Stoudemire scores 20 in return as Suns rout Blazers

PHOENIX (AP) -- Amare Stoudemire had a message for the Western
Conference on Thursday night.

"Amare Stoudemire's back," he said after scoring 20 points and
grabbing nine rebounds in 19 minutes to spark the Phoenix Suns to a
125-108 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Stoudemire, who missed the Suns' first 66 games after undergoing
surgery on his left knee Oct. 11, was 7-of-14 from the floor. His
fired-up teammates responded by scoring 76 first-half points, most
in the NBA this season.

"This is a great start," Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni said.
"I'm pretty jacked up."

Stoudemire was among seven Suns who scored in double figures --
Shawn Marion also had 20 -- as Phoenix snapped a two-game losing
streak.

Viktor Khryapa scored 22 points and had 12 rebounds for
Portland, which lost its sixth straight game since defeating the
Suns in Portland on March 12. The Trail Blazers are 3-20 since Feb.
3.

There had been concerns about how Stoudemire, who had not played
in 294 days, might mesh with the league's highest-scoring offense.
But it didn't take him long to join the flow.

After the U.S. Airways Center sellout crowd of 18,422 welcomed
him with a standing ovation, Stoudemire opened the Suns' scoring
with an 18-foot jump shot.

"When I first started, I just wanted to get myself going,"
Stoudemire said. "I was real hyped right before the game started.
Once the adrenaline got to pumping and I got that first shot down,
everything was cool from there."

Stoudemire's second basket came on a trademark put-back; he drew
a foul on Khryapa and hit the free throw. Stoudemire scored on
another offensive rebound a minute later.

Stoudemire's inside muscle was a welcome contribution for a Suns
team that came into the game averaging 9.48 offensive rebounds per
game, fewest in the NBA. The 6-foot-10 Stoudemire replaced 6-8
James Jones at forward in the starting lineup.

With Stoudemire dominating, the Suns sprinted to a 19-10 lead by
the time he went to the bench with 6:46 to play in the first
quarter.

The Suns sagged when Stoudemire sat down. Portland had pulled to
within 49-47 before Stoudemire returned with 7:48 to go in the
second quarter. On the Suns' first possession, Stoudemire feinted a
drive past center Brian Skinner, stepped back and hit a 15-foot
jumper.

With Stoudemire on the floor in the first half, Phoenix
outscored Portland 34-15. Without him, the Blazers outscored the
Suns 48-42. Phoenix led 76-63 at halftime.

"When he rolls down the middle, he definitely creates some
situations for people, and we can play off that," D'Antoni said.

Stoudemire dunked only once, in the fourth quarter. But he
attributed that to the flow of the game and said he wasn't
reluctant to attempt the explosive leaps that make him one of the
NBA's most feared players.

"I'm not really banking on dunking," he said. "As long as I
do what I can do to contribute to this team, I'm all set."

Stoudemire said he was relieved to be part of the team again
after a long and often discouraging rehabilitation.

"It was tough," Stoudemire said. "There were some days where
I felt I wasn't going to come back this year. There were some days
when I felt like I was ready to come back tomorrow. But it was just
frustrating because you have up days and down days on a consistent
basis."

Without Stoudemire, the Suns cruised to first place in the
Pacific Division and are close to locking up the No. 2 seed in the
Western Conference playoffs. With him, the Suns may be ready to
make a run at the franchise's first NBA title.

"I think it's time for us to rededicate ourselves to reach a
championship level," he said.

But Stoudemire may experience a few setbacks before he can
consistently play at an All-Star level.

"Ask me next week, too," D'Antoni said. "He's got some dog
days ahead of him."

Game notes
Phoenix's 76-point first half was two points more than the
previous NBA high this year, set by Charlotte against the Suns on
Feb. 25. ... Suns guard Steve Nash is shooting a career-high 51.2
percent from the floor, 42.8 percent from beyond the arc and 90
percent at the free throw line. Only three NBA players have
averaged more than 50 percent from the field, 40 percent or more
from 3-point range and 90 percent from the line in a season: Reggie
Miller with Indiana in 1993-94, Mark Price with Cleveland in
1988-89 and Larry Bird with Boston in 1986-87 and 1987-88. ...
Phoenix forward Shawn Marion has 52 double-doubles, one short of a
career high set last season. ... The last time the Blazers came to
Phoenix, they absorbed a 130-85 loss, the fourth-worst in franchise
history.