MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — It’s been a group effort to lift the Phoenix Suns from a dreadful start to the season to the brink of a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
The Suns are much more than just Steve Nash these days, and the free-falling Minnesota Timberwolves discovered that the hard way on Monday night.
Markieff Morris had 21 points and six rebounds to help the Suns’ reserves outscore Minnesota’s 66-27 in a 114-90 victory over the Timberwolves.
Shannon Brown had 17 points and seven rebounds and Nash had 14 points and five assists for the Suns, who have won five of their last six games and 11 of 16 to surge back into the playoff picture. They started the day one game behind Denver for eighth in the West.
“These last four or five games, I mean, they’ve carried us,” Suns forward Jared Dudley said of the second unit. “They’ve carried the starters, they’ve done well.”
Kevin Love had 25 points and 13 rebounds for the Timberwolves, who have lost six in a row. They have lost 22 straight games in April dating back to 2009.
“We just need to go down swinging, have fun with the game, live in the present,” said Love, who went 7 for 19 from the floor. “We can’t go out like this.”
J.J. Barea had 16 points, but the Wolves’ massive defensive problems continued with the Suns shooting 57 percent.
Sebastian Telfair had 14 points and seven assists and Michael Redd scored 13 points for the Suns, the sixth straight game he’s scored in double figures. That’s an encouraging sign for Phoenix (30-27), which improved to a season-high three games over .500.
“It’s great,” Morris said. “Especially if our first unit doesn’t start the game off great, we come in and we just try to play as hard as possible and set the tone for them when they come back.”
The Suns’ best days appeared to be behind them at the start of the season when they were 12-19 in their first 31 games. They’ve been an entirely different team since the All-Star break, with Nash’s supporting cast knocking down the open shots that he has been creating for years. They are 16-7 since the break, second only to San Antonio in the West.
Nash deserves plenty of the credit, as usual. He’s orchestrating an offense that did not receive any help at the trade deadline and has been without veteran Grant Hill since March 30 because of a knee injury.
“I just marvel at him,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. “He’s actually kept this team going. He’s actually willed them to stay in this race and you’ve got to give him credit.”
He’s had some help, though.
Brown has filled in beautifully since stepping into the starting lineup. He entered the night averaging 17.6 points in his eight games as a starter, including 24 points in a win over the Lakers on Saturday night in which the Suns’ reserves outscored the Lakers’ 58-10.
“Hopefully it never, ever, ever ends,” Brown said of his hot hand.
He got out quickly on Monday night, scoring 11 points and grabbing seven rebounds in the first quarter. Channing Frye and Marcin Gortat both were in foul trouble early in the first half, but Morris and Redd came off the bench to fill it up in their place. Morris scored 12 points in the first half and Redd had eight to keep the Suns humming on offense.
Minnesota trimmed a 15-point lead to five points early in the third quarter, but the Suns responded in a heartbeat.
Frye, Nash and Brown all hit 3s in a 21-4 run for a 77-55 lead that was far too much for the short-handed Wolves to overcome.
Minnesota was in the playoff hunt in early March until a rash of injuries derailed everything. Ricky Rubio went down with a torn ACL, Nikola Pekovic missed significant time with an ankle injury, Michael Beasley was out with a bad toe, Luke Ridnour with a sprained right ankle and Barea struggled with a pulled groin.
Rubio returned to Target Center on Monday night for the first time since he had surgery on March 9. He planned to speak to reporters Tuesday afternoon.
“It’s hard to be out there and see that there’s no energy,” Love said. “It’s saddening to me and tough most of all for the fans.”
NOTES: The Suns set a franchise record for fewest turnovers with just three against the Lakers. They doubled that in the first six minutes on Monday night. … Suns coach Alvin Gentry got technical foul from Eddie F. Rush in the second quarter while pleading for a 3-second call on Pekovic. Rush did call the 3 seconds, but not before he saw Gentry hopping up and down on the sideline. … Beasley received a technical foul in the fourth quarter for kicking the ball.
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