- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2009

PHOENIX (AP) - Steve Nash had 25 points and 17 assists, and the Phoenix Suns held on to beat the Houston Rockets 114-109 Wednesday night to breathe a little life into their flickering hopes of making the playoffs.

Grant Hill had 23 points, Shaquille O’Neal 22 and Jason Richardson 18 as the Suns won their season-best sixth straight at home.

Phoenix snapped a three-game losing streak overall to remain four games behind Dallas for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West, with just seven to play. The Suns failed to gain ground because the Mavericks beat Miami 98-96.

Ron Artest scored 28 for the Rockets, who dropped to fourth in the crowded scramble for playoff positioning in the West, a game behind No. 2 Denver and a half-game behind San Antonio. Yao Ming, in a rugged matchup with O’Neal, had 20 points and 14 rebounds.

Shane Battier added 18 points for Houston.

The Suns led by as many as 13 in the first half and were up 67-56 at the break.

Artest scored 10 in a 15-3 surge that gave the Rockets a 77-73 lead on his 19-footer with 6:20 left in the third quarter. Neither team led by more than three the rest of the quarter and it was 88-all entering the fourth.

Houston outscored the Suns 8-1 to start the final quarter to go up 96-91 on consecutive jumpers by Von Wafer.

Phoenix rallied with a 15-0 run to go up 104-96 on Nash’s two free throws 4:17 from the finish. Jared Dudley and Matt Barnes sank 3s, both with assists from Nash, during the outburst.

Artest banked in 3 to cut it to 106-101, then Nash sank a 3 seconds later to make it 109-101. O’Neal and Barnes each missed a pair of free throws to allow Houston to cut it to 111-109 on Wafer’s driving layup with 21 seconds to go. But Barnes made two free throws with 18 left to clinch it.

Phoenix shot 80 percent in the first quarter (16-for-20) but led only 33-30 after Houston’s Kyle Lowry made a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

The Rockets took a 41-39 lead on consecutive 3s by Wafer and Brent Barry with 8:40 left in the half, but the Suns responded with a 16-4 run to go ahead 55-45 on Richardson’s 3-pointer with 3:37 remaining.

Hill’s fast-break dunk on a pass from Nash gave Phoenix its biggest lead of the half, 67-54.

By halftime, the Suns knew that Dallas had won and needed to do the same. The Suns play at Dallas on Sunday.

Notes:@ Phoenix outrebounded Houston 26-11 in the first half. … The Suns’ Leandro Barbosa could return Friday night against Sacramento after missing seven games with a strained knee. … Houston is 16-6 since Tracy McGrady underwent season-ending knee surgery.



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