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Dragic, Suns ease past Hawks

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ATLANTA — A team like the Phoenix Suns, loaded with a variety of offensive weapons, can come at an opponent from a lot of different angles. On Monday night, the attack was led by guard Goran Dragic.

Dragic used a combination of outside jumpers and drives to the basket to score 19 points, helping the Suns defeat the Atlanta Hawks 102-95 and move a step closer to the playoffs.

“They have some good, penetrating guards,” Atlanta forward Paul Millsap said. “They get in the lane and make plays. They’re surrounded by shooters, so you have to pick your poison.”

Dragic scored the last six points of the third quarter to punctuate an 18-9 run and send the Suns to their fourth consecutive victory. The five-year veteran shot 8-for-15 from the field and added six assists.

With the win, Phoenix (42-29) tied the idle Dallas Mavericks for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Both teams trail the Memphis Grizzlies by a half-game.

Dragic was one of five players who scored in double figures for Phoenix, joining guard Eric Bledsoe (20), forward Channing Frye (18), forward Markieff Morris (17) and guard Gerald Green (13).

“The first group got us going,” Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek said. “And they did it again at the beginning of the third quarter.”

Green, who scored 33 against Atlanta in the teams’ first meeting, scored nine during a 10-3, fourth-quarter spurt that put the game away.

“He’s instant offense,” Hornacek said. “It’s fun when he gets it going. He provides a big spark.”

Atlanta (31-38) was led by Millsap and forward DeMarre Carroll, who each scored 19. Guards Lou Williams and Jeff Teague contributed 17 pieces apiece.

It was the most points for Williams since he had 18 against the Indiana Pacers on Feb. 18. Williams was in the doghouse for a month and did not play in seven consecutive games. With guard Kyle Korver sidelined due to back spasms, Williams played 27 minutes and made two 3-pointers.

“That was one of the positives from tonight,” Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Lou had a good bounce. Lou played decisively, which is a good word to use. He really helped us a lot in the first half.”

The loss was the third straight for Atlanta, which saw its lead for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference shrink to 2 1/2 games over the idle New York Knicks.

Phoenix made 12 3-pointers, three short of its season high, enough to keep Atlanta honest. Frye hit four and Bledsoe sank three, matching his career best.

“We shot the 3-ball pretty well throughout the game,” Hornacek said. “We’re doing a good job finding the hot guy and knowing where he likes the ball.”

Phoenix, which scored 79 points in the first half against the Hawks on March 2, looked as if it had another big night planned. The Suns raced out to an 11-2 lead before Atlanta began to slug its way back into the game, drawing within 25-23 after the first period.

The Hawks tied the game when Williams made a jumper on the first trip down the court in the second period. Atlanta then took its first lead at 27-25 when Williams made two free throws. Phoenix tied the game at 27-27, then went more than three minutes before scoring again, which allowed Atlanta to seize the momentum and take a 34-27 lead on a jumper by Millsap.

“We were trying to execute our plays and got soft with our passes and soft with our hands,” Hornacek said.

Phoenix cut the lead on back-to-back 3-pointers by Marcus Morris and Frye, but Atlanta held a 45-42 halftime lead. Williams had 10 points in the half, his first double-digit game since March 2 in Phoenix.

Atlanta built an eight-point lead in the third quarter before Phoenix got its offense cranked up again. After knotting the score at 59-59, the Suns outscored the Hawks 10-2 and sailed to a 77-66 lead after the third.

“A few guys made some shots,” Budenholzer said. “Frye was making shots the whole game. Dragic got to the paint, especially late to finish the quarter. Everybody contributed.”

The comeback was hardly epic by Phoenix standards. The Suns erased a 22-point deficit to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves in their previous game. It was another case of Atlanta failing to hold the lead; the Hawks blew a 14-point fourth-quarter lead in losing their to the Raptors on Sunday in Toronto.

NOTES: Atlanta G Kyle Korver missed his third consecutive game because of back spasms. The Hawks hope to have Korver back for Wednesday’s road game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, but they may not know until the day of the game. Shelvin Mack again started in place of Korver, and he scored five points. … Also out with injuries for Atlanta were C Al Horford (right pectoral muscle surgery), G John Jenkins (lower back surgery) and F Gustavo Ayon (right shoulder surgery). Phoenix was without C Emeka Okafor (herniated disk) and G Leandro Barbosa (left hand fracture). … Phoenix completes a three-game trip to the East with a game Wednesday at Washington.

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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