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Suns top Blazers for 12th-straight win

Those among the Suns still committed to those itchy winning streak beards will be looking haggard for at least two more days - although they had to survive another close shave against an inferior opponent to reach an even dozen.
/ Source: East Valley Tribune

Those among the Suns still committed to those itchy winning streak beards will be looking haggard for at least two more days - although they had to survive another close shave against an inferior opponent to reach an even dozen. The Suns beat Portland again, as they always seem to do, but needed two late clutch jumpers from Steve Nash, some offensive firepower from Boris Diaw and some crossed fingers to close out a 106-101 win Friday night at US Airways Center.

But it almost felt more like a loss to a team that is looking in the mirror and not liking what it sees - patchy stubble aside - right now.

"We relied on a lot of luck and lot of talent tonight and that's just not good enough," said Nash, who finished with 13 points and 15 assists and has six points and five assists in the final 6:45. "You beat a bunch of teams you should beat and you fool yourself into thinking you're good because you've won 12 in a row."

Portland rode a 36-point, 15-rebound effort from battering ram Zach Randolph, 22 more from rookie Brandon Roy and wouldn't let the Suns wiggle away all. They were still within three points with 1:17 left when Nash hit two jumpers within 27 seconds and fed Leandro Barbosa for a bucket before hitting two clinching free throws with 17.6 seconds left against the 16-25, going-nowhere Blazers.

"We didn't come ready to play, for one of the few times," a grim-faced coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We got lucky to escape without something disastrous. But we'll address it and be ready for the next game."

Amaré Stoudemire was strong inside with 25 points and seven rebounds and Barbosa added 20. Shawn Marion had 12 boards and a season-high five blocks but had a season-low four points.

D'Antoni didn't buy the bromide that it was a case of the Suns taking the Blazers, who they had already beaten twice by an average of 20 points, lightly. He's seen his team stumble out of the gate and trail after one quarter to the likes of Golden State, Seattle, Memphis, Houston and now Portland just over the last two weeks.

This wasn't an isolated incident, and the course of nature needs to be reversed.

"It's natural for people to want to win a championship, too," he said. "We need to take care of business. Teams that take care of championships don't have that (lack of focus), they do their business.

"You should try to get off of work by halftime, but you don't get off work before you start. I don't want to be too melodramatic . it was just a little misstep, but knowing these guys we'll be right back on it next game."

On paper, Phoenix had taken care of business against the league's weak sisters - the team is 17-1 against opponents who carried a losing record into the game. But lately, they have taken longer to put teams away or, in the case of the Blazers, simply had to outlast them.

Can the Suns clean up their act in the midst of a run that has included 28 wins in the last 30 games and a pair of winning streaks of 12 or more games? Can they learn without the pain of a loss?

"(A loss) might not be a bad thing. It would hurt us because we are chasing (Dallas for) the home court, but in the grand scheme of things it's about being the best team we can be. And if we can't learn those lessons while we're winning . we've got a lot of improving to do."

Diaw delivers

With the rest of the team struggling offensively, the usually passive Diaw took matters into his own hands and hit eight of 12 shots - many long jumpers - and tied a season high with 21 points and added his seventh 3-pointer of the season.

"The team got lucky tonight and I think I got a little lucky, too," he said. "Some of those shots don't go in for me every night, but they did this time. We needed some scoring and the ball was finding me.

D'Antoni pointed out Diaw as a bright spot Friday. "He has a tendency to figure out what we need and tries to do it," he said. "He can't hit it all the time, but he had a great game tonight."

Diaw is happy the Suns are still winning, but not with the focus of the team, which has struggled against inferior competition of late.

"We can win against any team, but we also can lose against any team," he said.

Bonus shots

Stoudemire suffered three facial cuts when his face was raked by Roy late in the second quarter. He finished the game with three butterfly bandages around his eyes and nose. ...

Who is the only sub-.500 team to beat Phoenix? Try the 33-8 Dallas Mavericks, who were winless (0-4) when they beat the Suns 119-112 back on Nov. 9. Since then, the Mavericks (twice) are the only team to beat Phoenix in regulation. ...

The Suns are shooting 49.7 percent from the field so far this season, a pace that would be the best in the NBA since the 1996-97 Utah Jazz shot 50.4 percent. ...

Of the last 17 baskets Raja Bell has made over the past three games, 16 have come from 3-point range (16 for 27). From inside the arc, he has missed 14 of 15 shots over the same span. ...

Shawn Marion's 14-point, 14-rebound effort in Houston was the 300th double-double of his career. Marion is on pace to reach 30 double-doubles for the seventh-straight season.