Minnesota at Phoenix

Suns scorch T-Wolves, clinch third straight Pacific Division title

CBS SportsLine.com wire reports
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PHOENIX -- The Phoenix Suns are back on the winning end of a blowout and have a third consecutive Pacific Division title to show for it.

Raja Bell scored 16 of his 22 points in the decisive third quarter and the Suns regrouped from two one-sided losses to clinch the division crown with a 108-90 victory over Minnesota on Tuesday night.

Leandro Barbosa, inserted into the starting lineup to try to rev up the stuttering Suns' offense, added 20 points. Steve Nash had 18 points -- including 4-of-5 3-pointers -- and 11 assists.

Boris Diaw, replaced by Barbosa as a starter, had 11 points and nine assists. Shawn Marion added 12 points and 10 rebounds.

The Suns said the division championship was nice but not all that important in the larger picture.

"That means we've had a good regular season and we've positioned ourselves well for the playoffs," Bell said, "but the ultimate goal is winning a championship. We understand we've got some work to do."

Kevin Garnett had 30 points and 16 rebounds in the Timberwolves' 11th consecutive road loss. With two more stops on this five-game trip, Minnesota is fading out of the fight for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

"The panic button has been hit," Garnett said. "We've got to win these last two bar none. I don't know how to say it anymore. The urgency is there if we're trying to make the playoffs."

The Suns had followed their emotional win in Dallas last week with consecutive one-sided defeats -- by a combined 46 points -- at home to Detroit and at Denver. So it was a relief for coach Mike D'Antoni to see his team put together a strong effort. The division title was simply a byproduct.

"We have loftier goals," D'Antoni said, "so it's something good, but again it would have been better if we didn't have this little funk that we've been in. There were some positive signs out there that we'll be back. So overall, it's pretty good."

The Suns finally got their high-speed offense going in the third quarter, taking control with 10-0 and 14-0 runs.

Bell, 1-of-6 shooting in the first half, was 6 of 7 in the third quarter, 4 of 5 on 3-pointers. He finished 6 of 9 on 3s.

"I've been forcing it probably the last three nights, just trying to find some rhythm," Bell said. "I talked to my wife at halftime, and she said, `Just have fun, relax, play and have fun.' Sometimes you've got to hear that. Sometimes it starts to weigh on you that you haven't made a shot, and that you're struggling."

Minnesota is 2½ games behind Golden State and the Los Angeles Clippers for the conference's final playoff berth.

"I'm motivated right now for the playoffs, and that's my goal personally," Garnett said. "If I lead, hopefully they'll follow, and half the time they will."

The Suns rolled despite an off night from Amare Stoudemire, who had four points and two rebounds in 22 foul-plagued minutes for Phoenix.

Down by 16 in the second quarter, Minnesota rallied to tie at 58 on Ricky Davis' 21-footer with 8:42 left in the third.

Bell scored the last eight in a 10-0 spurt that gave Phoenix the lead for good with 6:24 to go in the third. After the Timberwolves cut the lead to 68-63, the Suns scored the next 14. Diaw scored five, including a fastbreak dunk on a pass from Bell that turned into a three-point play.

Phoenix led 84-67 entering the fourth period and built a 91-71 lead after Diaw's spinning drive to the basket.

"They're going to make runs and we get to pointing fingers at each other instead of coming together," Minnesota coach Randy Wittman said.

The Suns missed seven consecutive shots in one early stretch, but went on a 20-5 run at the end of the first quarter and start of the second to go up 39-27 on Diaw's driving layup.

The lead reached 47-31 on Jalen Rose's 3-pointer 3:53 before the break, but the Timberwolves outscored Phoenix 16-4 the rest of the half. Mike James' 3-pointer at the buzzer cut the lead to 51-47 at halftime.

Garnett had 20 points and 12 rebounds in the first half.

Notes

  • Phoenix has won six division titles.
  • The Timberwolves are 8-18 since Dwane Casey was fired as coach and replaced by Wittman.
  • D'Antoni, still searching for a ninth player in his rotation, gave Rose a chance. The veteran, signed as a free agent after a $14.5 million buyout from the New York Knicks, scored eight points in 14 minutes.
  • Nash, who shoots 89 percent from the line, missed both his attempts after Minnesota technical fouls.
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Steve Nash soaks in the Suns' third straight division title while taking an unofficial rest break.  (AP)
Steve Nash soaks in the Suns' third straight division title while taking an unofficial rest break. (AP)

Scoreboard
Minnesota (28-38) 2225202390
Phoenix (51-16) «25263324108
MIN:K. Garnett 30 Pts
MIN:K. Garnett 16 Reb
MIN:M. Jaric 9 Ast
PHO:R. Bell 22 Pts
PHO:S. Marion 10 Reb
PHO:S. Nash 11 Ast
Players of the Game
PhoenixMinnesota

S. Nash

K. Garnett
PtsRebsAstPtsRebsAst
1851130161
Minnesota
K. Garnett, PF3811-208-8161130
R. Davis, SG364-120-04619
M. Jaric, PG332-70-05944
M. Blount, C314-122-2110010
M. James, PG285-110-042113
R. McCants, SG211-62-21104
R. Foye, PG202-100-00114
C. Smith, PF194-56-950314
T. Hassell, SF60-10-00000
M. Madsen, C40-00-00010
J. Reed, SF31-20-00002
T. Hudson, PGDid Not Play
B. Wright, SGDid Not Play
Totals 34-8618-2146201290
 39.5%85.7% 
Phoenix
L. Barbosa, PG398-190-036220
R. Bell, SG348-160-032122
S. Nash, PG337-120-2511118
S. Marion, SF286-130-0100112
A. Stoudemire, C212-50-02044
B. Diaw, SF305-61-169211
K. Thomas, PF233-60-09116
J. Jones, SF152-81-11125
J. Rose, SG143-60-01038
P. Burke, C31-20-02002
E. Piatkowski, SGDid Not Play
S. Marks, PFDid Not Play
J. Jones, SFDid Not Play
M. Banks, PGDid Not Play
Totals 45-932-4423017108
 48.4%50.0% 
Other Games
Cle 100 Final
Char 108
Den 94 Final
NJ 90
Phi 75 Final
Det 96
Dal 92 Final
NY 77
NO 114 Final
Mem 103
LAC 103 Final
Chi 89
GS 100 Final
Utah 104
Ind 76 Final
Hou 86
Wash 98 Final
Port 100