PHOENIX (AP) - Falling behind has become a habit for the Phoenix Suns. In the last three games, so has winning.
Steve Nash had 19 points, Marcin Gortat scored 14 and matched his season high with 17 rebounds, and the Suns won their third in a row with a 96-88 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Sunday night.
In all three wins, the Suns rallied from double-digit deficits, something the franchise hadn't done since November 2002.
Jared Dudley scored eight of his 14 in the fourth quarter, when Phoenix pulled away. Shannon Brown added 13, including consecutive 3-pointers in the decisive run to open the final period.
Marcus Thornton scored 23 and Tyreke Evans 17 for Sacramento. DeMarcus Cousins added 16 points and 14 rebounds, but the Kings shot just 33 percent in the second half to fall to 4-19 on the road.
The three consecutive victories since the All-Star break, all at home, matched Phoenix's longest win streak of the season.
Nash said the team's first-half struggles trace to its long layoff during the break.
``We had seven days off, a lot longer than a lot of people,' he said, ``and I just feel like we're still trying to shake the rust off in the first half of games. We feel a little better, a little more comfortable and make more plays in the second half.'
Overall, the Suns have won five of six.
``We still aren't starting great, but at least we are not starting ridiculously slow,' Gortat said. `We don't have this outstanding pace that we usually have in the third quarter, but we're getting better.'
Brown's 3s, followed by one from Dudley, capped a 15-3 Suns outburst to start the fourth quarter and Phoenix led 85-74 with 7:45 remaining. Sacramento scored the next eight to cut it to 85-82 on Cousins' dunk from the baseline with 3:32 to play.
Nash, though, followed with his second 3 of the night in as many tries to boost the lead back to 88-82. The teams traded baskets, then Evans sank a 12-footer to slice the lead to 90-86 with 2:29 to go. Grant Hill made a pair of mid-range jumpers and Dudley's 18-footer with 51.4 seconds left sealed it.
``I think the thing that killed us was Shannon Brown, those 3s that he hit,' Evans said. ``After that we could never really find a rhythm.'
Sacramento coach Keith Smart praised his team's defense.
``You're going to give up something,' he said. ``You've got a great point guard who's going to make plays and find people. I thought our guys did a great job to maintain and do the things necessary, but we had a few breakdowns late.'
Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry liked the Suns' defense, too.
``But we didn't come up with the loose balls,' he said. ``We were right there defensively but we just need to complete the defensive possession.'
The Kings took a 32-29 lead after one quarter, then opened the second with a 10-2 run to go up 42-31 on Isaiah Thomas' 16-footer with 9:15 left in the half. Phoenix cut it to 48-44 on Nash's runner in the lane with 2:24 to go and was down 52-47 at the break.
Cousins had 12 points and 10 rebounds in the first half but managed only four points and four rebounds after that. He finished 7 of 20 from the field, 1 of 4 after halftime.
Phoenix caught the Kings at 52-all with 9:59 to play when Cousins was called for a flagrant foul for throwing an elbow into Channing Frye on a layup attempt. Frye made both free throws.
Sacramento took a 61-59 lead on Evans' three-point play, but the Suns scored the next nine. Nash made a left-handed layup, was fouled by Evans and completed the three-point play to put the Suns ahead 68-61 with 4:01 left in the third quarter.
The Kings outscored Phoenix 10-2 the rest of the quarter, though. Travis Outlaw blocked Sebastian Telfair's shot, then dunked the rebound at the other end of the court at the buzzer to give Sacramento a 71-70 lead entering the fourth.
NOTES: The Suns played their sixth in a row at home, dating to before the All-Star break, and are in a stretch of 10 of 11 at US Airways Center. ... Thomas, who had averaged 17.1 points in seven games since becoming a starter, scored eight on 3-of-13 shooting. ... Referee Tre Maddox called a technical on Gentry in the second quarter. ... Sacramento got a technical on its second delay-of-game warning with 9:56 to play. ... Frye shot 3 of 12 for Phoenix. His backup at power forward, Markieff Morris, was 0 of 7.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved