- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 19, 2004

PHOENIX — Yes, the Phoenix Suns are that good, a fact to which the Washington Wizards will attest after getting trounced 110-96 last night at America West Arena.

One night after they ended a 12-year road losing streak against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Wizards lost for the 15th time in their last 16 visits here to a Phoenix team off to a league-best start (21-3) after winning just 29 games last season.

“They are a wonderful team,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said admiringly of a team that had just connected on 13 of 26 3-pointers. “They are unselfish, and they’ve got shooters. … Steve Nash is the orchestrator. They play beautiful basketball.”

The highest scoring team in the league, the Suns placed four players in double digits, led by 6-foot-7 power forward Shawn Marion’s remarkable performance. Easily the best rebounder in the league for his height, Marion grabbed 14 — more than the Wizards starting power forward/center tandem of Jared Jeffries (four) and Brendan Haywood (six) combined. Marion also scored a season-high 36 points on 13-for-18 shooting.

“I’m the Matrix — I don’t get tired,” Marion said. “I wanted to do a little more tonight and help my teammates out. But it was a team thing. It takes five to win, and that’s what we did.”

Both teams played the night before and appeared tired. That was clearly evident in the performance of the Wizards’ starting backcourt of Gilbert Arenas and Larry Hughes. One night after they torched the Lakers for 70 points, they came back to earth with a combined 38.

Antawn Jamison led the Wizards, who shot a respectable 40-for-87, with 25 points and nine rebounds.

But the biggest difference was that the Suns hit their 3s. After all, Phoenix, winner of 17 of its last 18 games, made 43 of 90 shots.

“Look at the first half,” Jordan pointed out. “They had 21 field goals, we had 20. The difference was that they already made nine 3s.”

The Suns caused the Wizards other problems as well. One night after Washington committed just six turnovers — a season low — the Suns forced the Wizards into 20 that they converted into 20 points.

As they have demonstrated all season long, the Suns don’t really need a lot of time to put a team away. They can run with any team in the league, and they love to get out and shoot 3s.

This was evident, although subtly, during a stretch in the third quarter that proved to be damaging. Leading 61-53 following Hughes’ 15-foot jumper, the Suns responded with eight straight points to push the lead to 69-53.

The Suns made a staggering seven of eight from 3-point range in the first half alone, and their 9-for-15 in the first half from behind the arc was not only a season-high by a Wizards’ opponent but broke the record of eight in one half by an opponent formerly held by the Atlanta Hawks and Kobe Bryant.

It was the Suns’ success from behind the arc that stood as the biggest difference between the teams in the first quarter, which ended with Phoenix on top 33-28. Both teams shot 59 percent from the floor.

Down by nine in the first quarter, Washington briefly took the lead 37-36 when Jamison nailed a 13-foot jumper with a little over seven minutes to play in the second. But reserve big man Stephen Hunter scored eight of the Suns’ last 10 points in the half to give Phoenix a 53-45 advantage.

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