Stoudemire leads Suns past short-handed Clippers

PHOENIX -- Winning doesn't always satisfy a coach and his players. That was the case with the Phoenix Suns on Friday night.

After Amare Stoudemire scored 23 points and the Suns extended their winning streak to three and dealt the short-handed Los Angeles Clippers their sixth consecutive loss, 106-98, neither coach Terry Porter nor his players were happy.

All felt they should have won easier.

"We played so well the first quarter and so bad the last three quarters," the Suns' Grant Hill said. "We took a step forward, then we took steps backward."

"Maybe it was too easy early," Phoenix's Steve Nash said. "After a while, you get a little out of rhythm."

"I'm happy about the win, but obviously disappointed with the way we closed the game out," Porter said. "We started great in the first three quarters, but the last three quarters ... I guess we just thought they were going to fold their tents after that. We just didn't play smart for a good stretch of the game. We came out in the third quarter, turned the ball over 10 times and lost our focus.

"We have to do a better job of taking teams out."

The victory pulled the Suns (19-12) seven games over .500 for the first time this season. They're 9-3 in their last 12 games, with the three losses by a total of only 11 points, and have scored 100 or more points in 10 of their last 11 games.

After a miserable first half, Shaquille O'Neal hit six straight shots in the second half and finished with 17 points for Phoenix. Jason Richardson scored 15 points, Hill 13, Leandro Barbosa 12 and Nash nine points and 11 assists.

Marcus Camby was outstanding for Los Angeles with 19 points and 23 rebounds. Rookie Eric Gordon scored 21 points, Fred Jones had 16 and Al Thornton 15.

"I thought that the guys we had played hard," Camby said. "We just got off to a bad start. We can't get off to bad starts, especially on the road."

Los Angeles coach Mike Dunleavy was pleased with his team's performance.

"I was proud of our guys with their effort and the way we stayed in the game," he said. "Our guys really competed well and did a lot of good things.

The Clippers dressed only 10 players. Los Angeles began the game without forward Zach Randolph (sore left knee), guards Baron Davis (bruised tailbone) and Mike Taylor (fractured right thumb), center Chris Kaman (strained left arch) and swingman Ricky Davis (sore left knee). They then lost guard Jason Hart in the first period with right elbow tendinitis.

Spurred by runs of 12-0 and 14-4 in the first period, the Suns raced to a 33-15 lead after one quarter, and still led 62-49 at halftime despite a 34-point second quarter by the Clippers and O'Neal's failure to make any of his six field goal attempts.

Stoudemire, who was plagued by foul problems in his previous two games, paved the way for the Suns' early success, scoring 16 points by the half, including a thunderous left-handed jam and a powerful slam to end the first period.

Richardson chipped in with 11 points, Hill had 10 and Nash had nine points and seven assists.

Camby already had a double-double -- his 16th of the season -- by intermission with 10 points and 13 rebounds. including eight off the offensive boards. Camby's tenacious play kept the downtrodden Clippers (8-24) in the game and helped Los Angeles outrebound the Suns 29-18 by halftime.

The teams played at virtually even terms in the third period when O'Neal finally got untracked and made all three of his field goal shots. Camby continued to shine for the Clippers, adding seven points and five rebounds. By the end of the quarter, Phoenix led 83-72.

The Suns increased their advantage to 20 points -103-83 -- their biggest of the game late in the fourth quarter, then a late Clippers rally fell short.

Game notes
Nash made two free throws and now has converted 29 in a row. ... Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy, who had incurred technical fouls in the previous three games, stayed free of any technicals this time. ... Stoudemire is the only player in the league to be ejected twice this season after being assessed two technicals in a game. ... The Suns' Matt Barnes was ejected after receiving his second technical foul in the fourth period. ...The Clippers have not shot 50 percent from the field this season in 32 games; last season they hit the 50 percent mark for the first time in their 32nd game. ... Los Angeles' 15 first-period points were a season low for a Phoenix opponent.