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Eric Bledsoe carries Suns past Nuggets

By Jerry Brown, The Sports Xchange

PHOENIX -- When Eric Bledsoe is playing at a high level, the Phoenix Suns are a tough team to beat.

And when he's clicking on a night when nothing went right for the Denver Nuggets, things can get very ugly, very quickly.

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Bledsoe scored 30 points in three quarters of work and the Suns held the Denver Nuggets to 22 percent shooting in the first half on the way to an easy 105-81 win on Saturday.

Bledsoe has scored 20 or more points for the four straight games, tying the longest such stretch of his career, and hit the 30-point mark for the seventh time overall and second time in nine games this season.

When he departed at the end of three quarters with the Suns up by 34 points at 88-54, Bledsoe had outscored Denver's five starters 30-26 and added seven rebounds, four assists and two steals.

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The Suns played without starting power forward Markieff Morris (sprained left knee), but they didn't miss a beat.

"We played our game and had fun," Bledsoe said. "I'm trying to bring it every night for my team. Everybody is getting easy looks and I'm creating for others as well. We're playing team basketball and being aggressive."

Bledsoe made 11 of 16 shots from the field and is 20-for-29 (69 percent) with 13 assists in the past two games, both easy Suns wins. It's the level of play that Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said lifts the entire team.

"He's playing great right now," Hornacek said. "If they try to close him down, (teammates are) going to be wide open. And when he comes down at you and pulls up for that jump shot, now guys are going to have to pick him up a little higher and he's just going to drive by them.

"I think it gives everyone confidence that, 'Hey, Eric is going to do something with (the ball), be ready.' "

Center Tyson Chandler added 11 points and eight rebounds and Mirza Teletovic had 11 points for the Suns (5-4), who beat the Nuggets for the seventh time in the last eight meetings and 60th time in 80 home games against Denver.

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Will Barton had 19 points and 12 rebounds off the bench to lead Denver (5-4). Guard Emmanuel Mudiay added 13 points and five assists for the Nuggets, who had won three straight but never showed much interest a night after beating the Houston Rockets 107-98 at home.

"No excuses here. They just kicked our (butts), plain and simple," Denver coach Michael Malone said. "We're not going to say it's the second night of a back-to-back and we have injuries. That's the NBA."

Denver missed 39 of 50 shots in the first half -- including 18 of 20 3-pointers -- and trailed by 32 points at intermission.

Of the 50 first-half shots attempted by the Nuggets, only eight came from inside the paint.

"We knew if we got stops the game would come easy for us," Suns forward P.J. Tucker said. "We all watched the (Houston) game, and I was texting the guys that Houston letting them get into the paint and that's how they were killing them. We contested shots, ran them off the line and shut down the middle."

Denver registered its first assist of the game when Randy Foye set up Gallinari for a 3-pointer with 2:49 left in the second quarter.

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"The selfish play in the first half was bothersome," Malone said. "Young teams like ours forget why we have success. We won three games at home and for the most part we shared the ball. Everybody touched it. Tonight, guys came out with an "I'm going to get mine' mentality. That's losing basketball, and I'm not going to accept it."

The Nuggets had a good first 150 seconds. While the Suns missed six of their first seven shots, Denver made three and jumped out to a 7-2 lead on a 3-pointer by Mudiay with 9:30 left.

But then the basket disappeared for Denver, and the Suns ran away.

As the Nuggets missed 16 of 18 shots for the rest of the quarter, Phoenix reeled off a 20-2 run and finished the quarter with a 27-13 lead. Bledsoe had nine points on 4-of-5 shooting and Archie Goodwin added six off the bench.

The Nuggets missed 11 of 12 3-pointers, committed five turnovers and looked bad doing it.

And then came the second quarter.

Bledsoe had nine more in the quarter and Phoenix finished the half on a 14-0 run.

The capper came with one-half second left, when P.J. Tucker hit Chandler with an alley-oop pass for a slam dunk to give Phoenix its biggest lead of the half at 60-28.

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"They came out from the jump and took it to us and Bledsoe had a hell of a game," said Barton, who had followed a career-high 26 points against the Rockets with his sixth career double-double. "We were stagnant on offense and our defense was terrible. But we'll fix it."

NOTES: Suns F Markieff Morris tested his sprained left knee, which he injured early in Thursday's win over the Los Angeles Clippers, but was unable to go. ... Denver coach Michael Malone said F Joffrey Lauvergne (back strain) is close to returning. Malone said he talked to the young Frenchman about the tragedy in Paris before Friday's victory over the Houston Rockets. "I made sure he was OK and check in on all his friends, family and relatives back in France," Malone said. "When something like that happens, you realize there are a lot more important things going on in the world."... Eric Bledsoe (22.4) and Brandon Knight (20.3) were averaging a combined 42.7 points per game through the first eight contests. The Suns haven't had two players average 20 points per game in a season since Stephon Marbury (22.3) and Shawn Marion (21.2) in 2002-03. ... Denver G Emmaunel Mudiay came into the game averaging 11.9 points, 6.8 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 1.22 steals. Since 1985-86, only three rookies -- Michael Carter-Williams of Philadelphia (2013-14), Damon Stoudamire of Toronto (1995-96) and Nick Van Exel of the Los Angeles Lakers (1993-94) -- have matched or bettered those numbers.

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