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Alex Len leads Phoenix Suns over Orlando Magic

By Tim Povtak, The Sports Xchange

ORLANDO -- The unheralded Alex Len is emerging as a shining light in this otherwise awful season for the Phoenix Suns.

He is a star in the making.

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Len scored a career-high 31 points and grabbed 15 rebounds Friday in leading the Suns to a surprisingly-easy, 102-84 victory over the Orlando Magic.

The Suns (16-46) snapped a 17-game road losing streak only a day after being throttled by the Heat in Miami.

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Len, 22, is a 7-foot-1, 260-pounder from the Ukraine now starting alongside veteran center Tyson Chandler, providing hope for the future in a dreadful season.

Although he was averaging just 8 points and 6.8 rebounds before the game, he reached double figures in both scoring and rebounding for the fourth consecutive game. It was his sixth consecutive game of at least 10 points.

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Since the All-Star break, he has averaged 18.5 points and 12 rebounds, putting him among the best centers in the league. He had 22 points and 16 rebounds in their win last week over Memphis.

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"This is just the beginning," Len said. "My body wasn't ready last year. Now all the hard work is starting to pay off. It feels good now. I'm just out there trying to be aggressive."

Len hit 10 of 22 shots. He blocked two shots. He hit jumpers and he powered his way inside. He has both the athleticism and a body that will grow considerably stronger with age.

"He doesn't even know how good he can be," said Chandler, who had 10 points and 12 rebounds. "He wants to be good, and he's willing to work for. For him, this is just the start of what he'll be able to do."

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Phoenix guards Devin Booker and Ronnie Price each had 14 points. Price added five steals and five rebounds. Booker had six assists.

The Magic (27-34) were led by Elfrid Payton, who had 19 points and 11 assists, but he was ineffective in the second half. Nikola Vucevic had 15 points and 12 rebounds. Evan Fournier scored 12 points after returning from a three-game absence. Rookie Mario Hezonja contributed 12 points.

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The Magic scored just 34 points in the second half.

The Suns outscored the Magic 26-16 in the third period, led by as many as 24 points, and took an 84-66 lead into the fourth. They were never challenged in the final period.

"They came to play, and we didn't," Vucevic said. "We came out sluggish, sleepy and they took advantage of it. Len played great. He's really improved a lot, but I wasn't aggressive enough against him defensively."

The Suns held a 57-50 rebounding edge and hit 35 of 78 shots (44.9 percent) from the field. The Magic made only 35 of 101 (34.7 percent.).

The Suns scored the first 16 points of the second half to take a 74-50 lead, putting the game out of reach. Payton finally scored with 5:21 remaining in the third quarter after the Magic had missed 11 consecutive shots to start the period. Combined with the end of the second quarter, the Suns scored 19 consecutive points.

Hezonja awakened the Magic late in the third by hitting back-to-back 3-pointers, but it was too little, too late.

"This is really disappointing," Magic coach Scott Skiles said. "They were much more physical on us, and we never responded. They pretty much dominated us. This is a game we had to have (to get into the playoff race), and we didn't respond."

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The Suns led 58-50 at halftime when Mirza Teletovic closed the second quarter with a 3-pointer. Len, who came into the game averaging eight points, had 18 points and five rebounds by halftime. The Suns made 25 of 49 shots (51 percent) in those first two quarters.

Payton started strong for the Magic by getting 13 points in the first quarter when he hit six of his seven shots. He failed to score in the second period when the Magic made only eight of their 26 shots.

Chandler was whistled for a flagrant I foul when he elbowed Ersan Ilyasova in the jaw late in the first quarter.

NOTES: G Victor Oladipo, the Magic's second leading scorer, missed Friday's game with a sore lower back. He complained of the problem on Wednesday after scoring 17 points against Chicago. ... G Evan Fournier returned after missing the previous three games with a sore right wrist. ... The Suns beat the Magic 107-104 earlier this season in Phoenix when Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight each scored 21 points. Both guards, though, missed Friday night's game with an injury. ... Suns G Devin Booker on Wednesday became the first Phoenix rookie since Richard Dumas (1992-93) to have multiple 30-point games. ... The Suns came into Orlando having lost 17 consecutive road games, matching a 42-year-old franchise record. They also had lost 30 of their previous 33 games. ... Magic coach Scott Skiles got his first NBA head coaching job with the Suns when he replaced Danny Ainge early in the 1999-2000 season. ... Skiles was not about to look past the Suns, despite their woeful season. "If you win 20, 23 and 25 games in three straight seasons (like the Magic have), and now we stand at 27, and if you can't get up for any game, whoever you're playing, then you've got a real problem," he said before the game. "We can't afford to look past anyone."

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