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Hill helps Suns eclipse Nuggets

THE red hot Phoenix Suns registered a fifth consecutive victory on Monday when Grant Hill scored 23 points to inspire the home team to a 118-115 win over the Denver Nuggets.

The win moved the Suns (39-31) within three games of the eighth-placed Dallas Mavericks for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

"It was huge for us," Suns guard Jason Richardson, who had 22 points, told reporters.

"We are playing for our playoff life right now. Every win is big for us and every game is big for us. It is great that we battled and stuck in there for the win."

Hill's jumper and free throw in the final minute gave the Suns a winning 116-113 lead, an advantage they held on to despite a frantic exchange of fouls in the closing stages.

"Tonight we responded. We fought," Hill, who also pulled down 10 rebounds, said. "Maybe guys understood the sense of urgency."

Shaquille O'Neal added 19 points and seven rebounds.

"We played well," the veteran said. "These last six games we have been playing good solid basketball."

Carmelo Anthony led Denver (45-26) with 29 points and Chauncey Billups scored 20 for the Nuggets, who occupy fourth place in the West standings.

Denver led 88-77 with 4:35 to play in the third quarter, but Phoenix outscored the visitors 41-27 in the final 16 minutes.

"Our defense got us the lead but then again we didn't get a lot of stops," Nuggets coach George Karl said, adding that Denver had missed center Nene Hilario in the closing minutes.


The Brazilian was ejected for a second flagrant foul with 7:25 to play after he grabbed Phoenix's Louis Amundson and threw him to the floor.

In Atlanta, Flip Murray scored a season-best 30 points while Mike Bibby and Joe Johnson each added 20 as the Atlanta Hawks won their season-high eighth straight home game, beating the Minnesota Timberwolves 109-97.

It was Atlanta's eighth win in nine games and the Hawks are 28-7 at Philips Arena. It was the fifth straight loss for the Timberwolves.

In Boston, Ray Allen scored 20 points and the Boston Celtics, sparked by an alley-oop dunk from Kevin Garnett, pulled away from the Los Angeles Clippers for a 90-77 win. Rajon Rondo added 14 points and seven assists, while Kendrick Perkins scored 12 points and had 13 rebounds for Boston (54-18).

In New York, Dwight Howard had 29 points and 14 rebounds, Hedo Turkoglu led a big fourth-quarter rally, and the Orlando Magic tuned up for a showdown with Boston by beating the New York Knicks 106-102.

In Miami, Dwyane Wade scored 27 points to top his own Miami single-season record, plus added eight assists as the Heat easily beat the Memphis Grizzlies 94-82.


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