It was all going wrong for the Suns again.
The Nuggets built a 12-point first-quarter lead, which ballooned to 18 minutes later.
Suns coach Mike D’Antoni paced the sidelines with a clenched jaw, taking out his frustration verbally on Boris Diaw and Leandro Barbosa during timeouts.
Carmelo Anthony banked in a wild 3-pointer just before the shot clock expired.
The US Airways Center crowd, knowing San Antonio had won again, was inching past annoyed and bordering on angry.
But suddenly it all went away. The Suns finally raised the tempo. Shawn Marion broke loose with his first big game in more than a month and turned a groaner into a laugher, blitzing Denver, 125-108. The Suns stayed two games ahead of San Antonio for the No. 2 seed in the West and restored a little of their swagger just in time for Sunday’s visit from the 61-win Dallas Mavericks.
Marion, who hadn’t scored 20 points in a game since Feb. 27 at Indiana — 12 games, not counting two he missed with a hand injury — exploded for 33, his most in a regulation game this year. He hit 13-of-17 shots, many on layups and dunks as the Suns improved their ball movement, nabbed 12 steals and racked up 31 fast-break points in their most impressive win in two weeks.
Steve Nash added 18 points and 11 assists as the Suns used a 17-2 run in the third quarter to take the steam out of a Denver team that came in with fists clenched and left with hands on their hips.
“Steve (Nash) said it best two or three times in the huddle. 'Let’s just play and have fun,’’’ D’Antoni said. “We were really struggling, everything was going wrong. So we went back to what we do well, and you’re probably looking at the guy who screwed it up.
“We think we can win a championship this way. If everybody on planet Earth doesn’t think so, that’s nice, but I know the (players in the) dressing room and definitely I believe that’s what we’re going to do.”
Marion was active on both ends (nine rebounds, three blocks and two steals) and said the Suns wanted to prove the 131-107 loss in Denver on March 17 was a mirage.
“I was able to get involved and it’s been a while,” he said. “Everyone made the extra pass and it was the first time I was getting touches and getting involved. I had good looks. I can’t score without the ball, without getting shots.”
Raja Bell and Barbosa added 19 points each as the Suns shot 55 percent from the field, hit 10-of-20 3-pointers, outrebounded the Nuggets (40-37) and flip-flopped a game that was going in the wrong direction.
“They have pride, and at halftime they realized they were in a fight,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “You could expect that after what we did to them in Denver they were going to come out with a special effort.”
As expected, D’Antoni inserted Kurt Thomas into the starting lineup for Diaw. And although the lineup is now 7-0 when used this season, the bigger lineup didn’t produce the desired results. The Suns trailed by 12 after one quarter, fell into an 18-point first-half hole and it likely won’t be seen again Sunday against Dallas.
“I probably won’t do that too many more times,” D’Antoni said. “We have to get back to what we do well, and I’m going to stop tinkering. When we went small we ran, we pushed the basketball and got some energy in the building.”
Whether that meant going back to Barbosa so Marion could remain at the power forward spot, D’Antoni said, “I don’t know. I’ve got until Sunday at 12:30 (against Dallas) to figure that out.”
See you soon
The Suns won the season series from Denver (3-1) and have won nine of the last 11 meetings with the Nuggets — the team they are now aligned to face in the first round of the playoffs.
Karl said the Suns are “a fun team to play” and thinks his team has played some of its better games against Phoenix because of the open style.
Center Marcus Camby is prepared for an exhausting series if Denver gets the Suns.
“They are a team with a lot of firepower,” he said. “From a player’s standpoint, you have to expel a lot of energy to play these guys. They are a team we think we can score a lot of points on, but they can score a lot of points too.”
The Suns won their 54th game Friday, which matches last season’s total (54-28) in 10 fewer games. Phoenix needs nine wins in the last 10 to set a franchise record with 63 wins. ...
Marion had two blocks and now has 808 in his career, tying Alvan Adams for third place on the Suns’ all-time list. Larry Nance (904) and Mark West (897) rank first and second, respectively, on the list. ...
Nash’s 11 assists snapped a string of three straight games with nine — the first time all season he had gone that long without a double-digit assist game. ...
The 18-point deficit represented Phoenix’s biggest comeback win of the season. The Suns trailed the Mavericks by 16 in Dallas on March 14 before winning in double overtime.