PHOENIX (AP) - The tired, last-place and short-handed New Orleans Hornets were just the opponent the Phoenix Suns needed to get back to .500 and gain a bit of ground in their bid to make the playoffs.
Jared Dudley scored 15 of his 21 points in the second half and the Suns beat the Hornets 92-75 Sunday night to pull within 1 1/2 games of Houston for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Shannon Brown, starting for injured Grant Hill, added 16 for Phoenix. Channing Frye had 14 points and 11 rebounds, Marcin Gortat scored 13 and Steve Nash handed out 14 assists for the Suns, 16-1 this season when their opponent scores 90 or fewer points.
Jason Smith and Marco Belinelli scored 14 apiece for the Hornets. Jarrett Jack added 13.
New Orleans - finishing off a five-game, seven-day road trip - became the third team in the NBA and first in the West to lose 40 games.
Phoenix dominated the game at the foul line, going 19 of 21 to the Hornets' 7 of 9.
``We had to come out and get the win,' Dudley said. ``We are at home, fighting for playoffs. We see that Houston has been losing, Utah has been losing, so we have to keep it going. It is going to come down to the road games, so the home games are must wins. It doesn't matter who comes here.'
The Suns play seven of their next eight on the road.
``We are going to have games that we have to win and a lot of those games are going to be on the road,' Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry said. ``For us, this is our first playoff game and we get on a plane and fly to Sacramento and that will be our next playoff game. I think that is how we have to approach it.'
After the Suns took a 50-41 halftime lead, Brown led an 18-4 run that put Phoenix ahead 70-49 with 4:36 left in the third quarter.
He started the outburst with three free throws after being fouled by Belinelli, then stole the ball from Smith and sank a 3. Brown ended the run with a 14-footer. Dudley scored six straight points during the surge.
``We knew they were a little bit tired and wanted to jump on them and keep them down,' Brown said.
The Hornets scored six in a row to cut it to 72-58 on two free throws by Greivis Vasquez before the Suns' Josh Childress sank a 3-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer to boost the lead to 75-58 entering the fourth. It was just the fourth 3 of the season for Childress and first since Feb. 4.
New Orleans got no closer than 12 in the final quarter.
The Hornets led only once, 33-32 on a 3-pointer by Al-Farouq Aminu with 7:31 left in the first half.
``We have been in situations before off a back-to-back and this was the first time that I thought it affected us from an energy standpoint,' New Orleans coach Monty Williams said. ``I thought the ball didn't move tonight. ... We had 19 turnovers and you can't win games on the road with 19 turnovers and not getting to the free throw line. That is a recipe for a loss.'
Phoenix used an 11-2 run to go up 49-39 on a pair of free throws by Frye with 1:46 left in the half. Michael Redd started the spurt with a three-point play and Brown scored on a reverse layup and 21-footer.
The Suns' Robin Lopez, on his 24th birthday, scored all 10 of his points in the nine minutes of the second quarter on 2 of 2 shooting and 6 of 6 from the foul line.
``He really `beasted' us,' Williams said.
Frye had eight points and nine rebounds in the first half.
The Hornets, already ravaged by injuries, lost Chris Johnson with a concussion in the first half.
NOTES: After dressing just eight players the previous two games, New Orleans had 10 this time with the return of Chris Kaman from a five-game absence due to illness and Gustavo Ayon from a three-game leave for the birth of his child. ... The Suns' Markieff Morris missed his second straight game with the flu but Gentry said the rookie forward is expected back for Tuesday's game against the Kings. ... Phoenix won the season series 3-1.
The Associated Press News Service
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