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Suns rally to beat Hornets, end six-game skid

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Phoenix Suns’ morale was tested during a six-game losing streak, but their perseverance finally paid off Wednesday night.

The Suns rallied from a 17-point deficit to snap the skid with a 111-106 victory over the struggling Charlotte Hornets.

Phoenix outscored Charlotte 10-2 over the final 2:30 to win a game that almost got out of hand early, when the Hornets raced to a 50-33 lead midway through the second quarter.

Guard Isaiah Thomas came off the bench to lead the Suns with 23 points, including a jumper and two huge free throws in the final 1:12. Afterward, he talked about the team’s collective heart.

“This is huge, especially the way we won,” Thomas said. “We were down the whole game and it didn’t look good for us, but we just kept fighting and kept fighting and finally got over the hump. That’s what the definition of this team is. No matter how bad it is, no matter how good it is, just keep fighting. So hopefully this gives us some momentum.”

The Suns lost twice during the skid on last-second shots, including Monday night at home when Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton banked in a 3-pointer at the buzzer for a 96-94 win. Phoenix also lost by two to the Detroit Pistons and by one in overtime at the Los Angeles Clippers during the skid.

“It’s about time we won a game,” Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek said. “After you have lost six in a row, it feels like you haven’t won in forever. Our guys have been playing hard, so it’s good to get a win and get their confidence back up.”

The Suns (13-14) had not won since beating the Mavericks in Dallas on Dec. 5.

Charlotte (6-19) took its fourth consecutive loss and fell for the 14th time in 16 games.

The Hornets seemed to be headed toward a blowout in the first half, leading 50-33 with 7:01 remaining in the half. However, the Suns chipped away at the lead, getting it down to 61-54 at halftime and 87-83 after three quarters.

The Suns took their first lead at 105-104 on a fastbreak layup by guard Eric Bledsoe, after a steal by guard Goran Dragic. Thomas then hit a jumper on Phoenix’s next possession for a 107-104 lead with 1:12 left.

Charlotte center Al Jefferson hit a jumper to cut the margin to 107-106 with 51.3 seconds left, and guard Kemba Walker had a chance to give the Hornets the lead but missed a jumper with 25 seconds left.

Thomas calmly hit two free throws with 19.9 remaining for a 109-106 lead, and after Charlotte guard Gary Neal missed an attempt at a tying 3-pointer, Phoenix forward P.J. Tucker salted the game away with two free throws with 5.6 seconds left.

“We just got stops at the end,” Thomas said. “We executed the plays that coach wanted us to execute, and that was the name of the game. We just stuck to it and got some key stops toward the end.”

Dragic, in his first game back after missing two games with a back injury, finished with 20 points and eight assists. Forward Gerald Green scored 16 for the Suns, and Bledsoe finished with 15. Forward Markieff Morris had 13 points and eight rebounds before picking up two technical fouls and being ejected for arguing in the third quarter.

Jefferson led the Hornets with 28 points and 10 rebounds, including 18 points in the first quarter. Walker had 27 points, and Neal scored 13.

“We’re not an offensive juggernaut,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said, “but our problem is not the offense. Our problem right now is that we can’t guard. We’re playing guys that are going to be good players in this league and we’re going to be a good team, but the game’s going to be based around their defense. Normally, if we score 106, we have a win, but tonight that’s not the way it was.”

Walker added, “Tonight, I just thought we had bad execution down the stretch. You’ve got to make those plays whenever you have the ball, make a play for your team. But it was bad decisions or a turnover or having to force a shot at the end of the shot clock, and it cost us.”

NOTES: NBA commissioner Adam Silver attended the game and said it is a matter of when, not if, Charlotte will host a future All-Star Game. The next available date is 2017. … Hornets F Cody Zeller played despite breaking his nose in a 97-88 loss at Cleveland on Monday. He finished with seven points and nine rebounds Wednesday. … The Hornets won the previous game between the teams, 103-95 at Phoenix on Nov. 14. … Hornets G Jeffery Taylor came off the NBA’s suspended list after sitting out the previous 24 games, but he was made inactive for Wednesday’s game. Coach Steve Clifford said he plans to work Taylor back into the mix slowly. … The Suns opened a three-game Eastern swing. They play at New York on Saturday and at Washington on Sunday. … The Hornets hit the road for a game at Philadelphia on Friday. … The Suns came into the game leading the NBA in team free-throw percentage at .810, but they finished 16-for-21 (76.2 percent) Wednesday.