Suns 88, Hawks 80

Having endured a seemingly endless amount of trade rumors in

recent weeks, Amare Stoudemire can finally relax and put all his

focus on helping the Phoenix Suns make a run for the playoffs.

Stoudemire scored 22 points for his ninth straight game over 20,

leading the Suns to an 88-80 victory over the poor-shooting Atlanta

Hawks on Friday night.

Greeted by a rousing ovation during pregame introductions,

Stoudemire sure played like he wanted to be in Phoenix.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Stoudemire said of all the

trade reports. “I’m not surprised al all, honestly. I wouldn’t

have been surprised if I had been traded, but I’m glad that I’m

here now.”

Stoudemire also had eight rebounds, one night after the Suns

decided to keep him in Phoenix rather than trade him and risk

losing him this summer with no compensation if he opts out of the

final year of his contract.

“The last week or week and a half, he’s just been playing,”

coach Alvin Gentry said. “He’s put it all behind him. He played

well. I’m proud of the way he’s handled the situation. I think he’s

done great.”

Grant Hill added 16 points for the Suns, who used a 13-0 run in

the fourth quarter to pull away.

Josh Smith led Atlanta with 21 points, but didn’t score in the

fourth period, and Joe Johnson had 19 points. The Hawks were

outrebounded 50-36 and shot just 39.5 percent for the game.

That was enough for the Suns to overcome an off night from Steve

Nash. He had just six points, missed seven of his 10 shots and had

six turnovers for the game.

With the game tied 70-70 in the final quarter, the Suns started

their key surge with a tap-in by Jared Dudley. Jason Richardson and

Channing Frye followed with buckets, Lou Amundson scored five

points in a row and Dudley completed the burst with a layup, giving

Phoenix an 83-70 lead.

Atlanta never recovered after that.

Most surprising was the Suns’ defense. They held the Hawks to 30

points in the second half, a season low for an opponent.

“We’re taking a lot more pride in our defense,” Frye said.

“We took them away from what they wanted to do.

“Some games don’t look pretty, but we got a ‘W.”

Gentry said the Suns never made any offers that included

Stoudemire.

“We never initiated the calls,” Gentry said before the game.

“We weren’t out there actively trying to trade him. We weren’t

going to give him away unless there was something out there that

was beneficial to our team.”

The way he started on Friday night, the Hawks probably wish

Steve Kerr would have shipped him out on Thursday.

Stoudemire scored 13 points in the first quarter and 17 points

in the first half to offset Nash’s struggles. The normally sterling

point guard had two points and five turnovers in the first

half.

Gentry said that Nash still is “mentally drained” from all his

activities last weekend, including carrying the torch at the

Olympics on Friday, winning the skills competition at NBA All-Star

weekend on Saturday and competing in the All-Star Game on

Sunday.

Robin Lopez had 12 points and nine rebounds for the Suns.

Jamal Crawford scored 11 points and Al Horford added 10 points

and nine rebounds for the Hawks.

“I thought our offense hurt us tonight,” Atlanta coach Mike

Woodson said. “It really put us behind. We ended up with 12

assists and we missed a lot of good shots and a lot of our shots

were hurried shots.”

Johnson was disappointed in the Hawks’ fourth-quarter

collapse.

“When our offense wasn’t working in the fourth, it seems like

we gave up defensively as well,” he said. “That’s not a sign of a

good team. We’re better than that.”

NOTES: The Suns’ 88 points were their fewest in a victory since

a Feb. 23, 2008 victory against San Antonio. … Smith is the only

player in the league averaging 15 points per game, eight rebounds

and four assists. … Crawford owns the NBA record for four-point

plays, 24, including five this season. … Four members of the

famed Tuskegee Airmen were guests of the Suns.