The overachieving Phoenix Suns have home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
The Suns, considered a borderline playoff contender when the season began, used the dominating power of Amare Stoudemire, the virtuoso playmaking of Steve Nash and an array of long-range shooters to rout the Denver Nuggets 123-101 on Tuesday night.
The victory locked up the No. 4 seed in the West for Phoenix. The Suns will be No. 3 if they can win at Utah on Wednesday night. "It’s a reward for the collective energy we’ve put into it this season," Nash said, "… We enjoy this and we want to keep getting better and see how good we can be."
Stoudemire scored 26 points and Nash had 18 points and 10 assists before sitting out the fourth quarter while the reserves mopped up the Suns’ 11th consecutive victory over the Nuggets in Phoenix.
"They just played harder than us from what I saw," acting coach Adrian Dantley said. "It just seemed like they had more effort, they played harder. You’ve got a big game, you can’t dig yourself a hole like that. It looked like we weren’t ready."
The Nuggets can still get the No. 4 spot, and a first-round homecourt edge, if Phoenix wins at Utah.
The Suns made 14 of 24 3-pointers, 11 of 17 in the first three quarters.
"Man, there’s really nobody that’s going to beat them when they shoot like that," Denver’s Chauncey Billups said.
The Suns have won 13 of 15 and are 22-6 since the All-Star break, second-best in the league.
Coach Alvin Gentry, in his first full season in charge, praised the team for its chemistry and character.
He said there will be no letup in Utah, where the Suns will face a loud, hostile crowd. The Jazz won at Golden State on Tuesday night.
"We’re playing to win, guys," Gentry said. "We’re not in a position to rest guys or do this or do that. We’re happy to be in the playoffs and I think we owe it to all our fans and we owe it to all the players to try to play and win games. It’s the last game. It means something to us."
Phoenix jumped to an 18-2 lead and the Nuggets never cut it to single digits after the first quarter. Billups said he told his teammates in the locker room before the game that the Suns, knowing that Denver had played the previous night, would try to jump to an early lead.
Then the Nuggets seemed helpless to stop Phoenix from doing just that.
Carmelo Anthony scored 29 and Billups 16 for the Nuggets. Billups was 1 for 6 on 3s and did not have an assist in 34 minutes.
Phoenix led by as many as 23 in the second quarter, was up 70-49 at the half and led 97-70 after three.
Denver’s Kenyon Martin left the game in the second quarter because of patella tendinitis. Dantley said Martin told him his knee was bothering and he didn’t want to risk further injury.
Six Phoenix players made 3s, including four reserves who were a combined 11 for 15. Channing Frye made 4 of 5 and scored 12 points. Jared Dudley was 3 of 4 for 11 points. The Nuggets, meanwhile shot 42 percent overall and 6 of 21 on 3s.
"I think Amare deserves a lot of credit for our 3-point shooting," Gentry said, "because when he rolls down the line, obviously there’s got to be somebody to help on his rolls, and he frees up 3-point shooters."
Denver made a brief stab at getting back in the game.
The Suns started the second half 1 of 5 shooting with four turnovers as Denver went on a 10-2 run to pull to 72-59 with 7:51 left in the third quarter.
Phoenix, though, scored the next nine – a fastbreak dunk for a three-point play by Stoudemire, a 3-pointer by Frye and Nash’s three-point play – and it was 81-59 with 5:35 left in the quarter. The run reached 17-4 on another 3 by Frye to put Phoenix up 90-63 with 2::47 left in the third.
It was some kind of shooting night for the NBA’s highest-scoring team.
Nash made one from three-quarters court that didn’t count because it came just after the first-quarter buzzer, Frye banked in a 3-pointer from 32 feet with 3 seconds left in the third quarter and Leandro Barbosa wrapped up the night with a 3 as the shot clock expired with 2.8 seconds to play.
NOTES: Phoenix won its eighth home game in a row. … Nash is a cinch to become the fifth player in NBA history to lead the league in assists at least four times. … Denver last won at Phoenix on April 7, 2004, the season before Nash signed with the Suns. … The Nuggets were without coach George Karl for the 14th consecutive game while he fights throat and neck cancer. … Phoenix won the season series 3-1.