- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 19, 2009

PHOENIX (AP) - Jason Richardson scored 23 of his 25 points in the second half, and Shaquille O’Neal had 26 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Phoenix Suns to their third straight victory, 126-116 over the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night.

Steve Nash added 24 points and 10 assists to help the Suns move within four games of idle Dallas for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The loss ended the 76ers’ winning streak at four games.

Grant Hill added 21 points for the Suns.

Andre Miller topped Philadelphia with 23 points and eight assists, and Thaddeus Young also had 23 points. Lou Williams had 19 points, Willie Green and Donyell Marshall 12 each, and Andre Iguodala 11.

Richardson helped the Suns break open a close game with 11 points in the fourth quarter. O’Neal dominated the game inside, hitting 12 of 18 shots, and Nash directed the Suns’ potent offense.

The first half produced a series of runs and ended with the 76ers leading 66-63, but it was marred by an injury to Leandro Barbosa, one of the Suns’ leading scorers.

Barbosa, averaging 14.5 points, was forced out with 26.3 seconds remaining in the first period when he hyperextended his left knee on a drive to the basket. His status was listed as day-to-day and he will undergo an MRI on Thursday.

The 76ers had the first big run of the opening half, spurting for 10 straight points, including four each by Young and Green, taking a 23-16 lead midway through the first quarter. Phoenix rallied to grab a 29-28 lead on a layup by Lou Amundson late in the period, but Williams scored Philadelphia’s final eight points of the quarter and the 76ers led 34-31.

Phoenix opened the second quarter with a 14-1 spree, capped by a 3-pointer by Matt Barnes, while holding Philadelphia without a field goal for the first 3:42.

The Suns then opened an 11-point lead, 51-40, before the 76ers started raining 3-pointers, including three straight, one by Miller and two by Donyell Marshall, wiping out the Suns’ advantage.

Philadelphia, one of the league’s worst shooting teams, shot 61 percent (25-for-41) in the first half. Young led the way with 14 points and Miller had 13. Nash had 16 and Hill 13 for the Suns, who hit 54.2 percent (26-for-48).

The third quarter was close throughout, with nine ties and three lead changes. Neither team led by more than five points, with the Suns holding a 93-91 edge going into the fourth period.

Richardson, with 14 points, keyed the Suns’ offense during the period.

Notes:@ For the second season in a row, the Suns will play an outdoor exhibition game, this time against Golden State on Oct. 10 at Indian Wells, Calif. … The 37-year-old O’Neal is averaging a career high in field goal percentage and nearly that in free throw percentage; the last player over 35 to have career highs in both categories was Robert Parish in 1980-81. … The Suns’ average of nearly 120 points per game since the All-Star break is the best in the NBA, nearly seven points better than any other team.

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