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Hawks continue skid

POSTED: January 14, 2009 12:44 a.m.

PHOENIX Shaquille O’Neal had 26 points and 10 rebounds, and the Phoenix Suns won their third straight Tuesday night with a 107-102 victory over the Atlanta Hawks, who lost their fourth in a row.In winning for the sixth time in seven games, the Suns (22-13) improved to nine games over .500 for the first time this season.

After a tight fourth quarter, O’Neal put the Suns ahead for good, 99-98, with a foul shot with 1:49 remaining. Steve Nash followed with a jumper and Amare Stoudemire made a jump hook, giving the Suns a 103-98 advantage.

Nash finished with 23 points and six assists, Leandro Barbosa scored 22 points and Stoudemire had 17 for the Suns. Matt Barnes added 10 rebounds.

Josh Smith led the Hawks with 24 points. He was followed by Mike Bibby with 17, Marvin Williams with 16 and Flip Murray with 14. Williams also had 12 rebounds, Zaza Pachulia 11 and Smith 10.

The Suns got off quickly for the second straight game, scoring the first seven points and building a 31-14 lead in the opening quarter. They increased the advantage to 19 points early in the second, but as is their habit, they let the other team back.

With Murray collecting 10 points in the second period, the Hawks outscored the Suns 17-7 over the final six minutes of the quarter and pulled within 50-46 at halftime.

The Suns’ defense was the story early, as they held Atlanta to 1-of-10 shooting to start the game and limited the Hawks’ top scorers, Joe Johnson and Bibby, to a total of seven points by the half. But the Hawks got scoring contributions from a total of nine players in mounting their first-half comeback.

After a sizzling beginning, when they made 13 of 19 shots in the first period, the Suns cooled off and were only 8-of-19 in the second quarter.

The Hawks, meanwhile, were only 5-of-24 in the opening period but 12-of-19 in the second quarter.

The tenacious Hawks continued to battle in the third period. After falling behind 59-50, they fought back and took the lead for the first time, 75-73, on Williams’ three-point play with two minutes remaining. But the Suns scored the final eight points of the quarter, including 3s by Nash and Barbosa, and regained the lead at 81-75 heading into the final period.

Atlanta’s starting center, Al Horford, the only unanimous choice on last year’s All-Rookie team, did not accompany the team on its current three-game road trip because of a bruised right knee.



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