Suns crush Jazz, zero in on West's No. 2 seed

Suns crush Jazz, zero in on West's No. 2 seed

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By DOUG ALDEN AP Sports Writer

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- It's almost hard to believe the Phoenix Suns are trying to clinch only the second-best record in the NBA.

They're playing much more like No. 1.

The Suns almost scored 100 points before the fourth quarter in a 127-98 rout of the Utah Jazz on Saturday, extending their winning streak to five in a row and putting Phoenix one step closer to locking up the second seed in the Western Conference.

"We have a lot more energy and a lot more consistency," said Steve Nash, who had 18 assists, 13 points and zero turnovers for the Suns. "Everyone feels pretty good about it."

The Suns just need one more win or a loss by San Antonio to clinch the second-best record in the league. Only Dallas (64-14) has a better mark than Phoenix's 61-19. The Suns' 1-5 start to the season isn't coming back to hurt them too much at the end.

Phoenix has won eight of nine and can tie the franchise record for victories with one more.

"I think that's what's most important -- to end on an upswing and build some momentum going into the playoffs," said Raja Bell, the former Utah guard who finished with 18 points Saturday.

Reserve Leandro Barbosa scored 28 points and all five starters scored in double figures as the Suns avoided getting swept by the Jazz for the season. Amare Stoudemire had 14 points and 11 rebounds and, Bell and Shawn Marion scored 18 apiece. The Suns were 10-for-23 from 3-point range and made 30 of 31 foul shots.

"We just shot the ball so well tonight. It was just tough for them to get back in the game," Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni said. "Basketball is not real complicated. You shoot and miss you lose and you shoot and make you win."

The Jazz lost for the sixth time in seven games and fell two games behind Houston in the race for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Playing at home -- where Utah has lost three in a row -- hasn't had much value lately.

"It was a very difficult night, a very disappointing night to say the least because that was a big game for us," Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. "They got three layups to start the ballgame off and we never did recover."

Phoenix had lost the first three games against the Jazz this season by a combined 10 points. This one was rarely even that close. Phoenix opened the game with a 13-1 run and led by at least five the rest of the way.

Mehmet Okur led Utah with 20 points and 10 rebounds and Carlos Boozer added 18 points and 10 boards.

"I just think they beat us from the jump to the finish," Boozer said. "End of story. Game's over now."

The Suns used an 8-0 run late in the second quarter to extend their lead to 68-46 at halftime, then pulled away early in the third when Bell hit a 3-pointer, Stoudemire made two free throws and Jones added another 3 to put Phoenix ahead 76-48.

Nash took a steal in for a layup and drew a clear-path foul on Dee Brown. Nash made both free throws and the Suns kept possession because of the intentional foul, which cost the Jazz again when Bell hit a 3-pointer from the corner to make it 81-52.

Bell made two more free throws with 6:51 left in the period to give the Suns an 87-56 lead and the Jazz hardly made a dent in it before Sloan had seen enough and put in his reserves about midway through the fourth quarter.

Matt Harpring scored 13 and Dee Brown added a career-high 12 for the Jazz.

Notes@: The Suns visit Houston on Monday and close the regular season at home Tuesday against the Clippers. ... Utah F Andrei Kirilenko (thumb) missed his fifth straight game and G Gordan Giricek (side) sat out his third in a row. ... Utah's only season sweep of Phoenix was in 1999-2000. ... Brown had never scored more than nine in a game. Paul Millsap had nine rebounds for Utah and the Jazz finished with a 44-42 advantage on the boards.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) APTV-04-14-07 2255MDT

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