EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - On the eve of this four-game Suns road trip, Stephon Marbury talked about playing teams "in a funk like we are."
So call this the Grand Funk Tour of 2003. The New Jersey Nets (9-11) may have kissed their funk good-bye coming up with their second win in as many nights, pulling away from the Suns (8-11) in the final 4:30 on Saturday for a 99-88 win at Continental Airlines Arena.
As for the Suns, they were hoping to build on their near-miraculous comeback from a 29-point deficit in Boston the previous night (the biggest comeback win in franchise history).
For the most part, they played well, even leading 86-85 with 4:34 left after a Marbury hoop.
But the Nets pounded the ball inside to Kenyon Martin and Jason Collins, put up an effective zone defense, then protected the 3-point line in the closing moments to keep the Suns at bay. "I loved our effort," said Suns coach Frank Johnson.
"It was there for us to take. We just didn't have enough juice to take it at the end."
So maybe the Suns are out of their funk, too.
Certainly, Shawn Marion — who has been subpar for much of the early season — seemed to solve whatever has been ailing him.
Marion flew around the floor, scoring 25 points, hauling down 17 rebounds (two short of his career high) and coming up with five steals.
"This is the Shawn we want," Johnson said.
Marion indicated he was pleased with his performance, "But we lost."
The Suns played almost even with the Nets in the first half, then hit a dead spot at the end of the third quarter, as they continued to miss shots (they hit only 41 percent for the game). They fell behind 81-66 heading into the final quarter, before mounting their unsuccessful comeback.
"We had a young lineup in there, and we were a little baffled at one point," Marion said.
In the battle of the traded point guards, Marbury had 23 points on 10-for-24 shooting, plus seven assists. But he also had six of the Suns' 16 turnovers.
Jason Kidd had 17 points (while taking only 13 shots) and nine assists with five turnovers.
Martin had 21 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists.
This game also could have been called "The Battle of the Hot Seats," as there have been rumblings about the status of coaches Byron Scott of the Nets and Johnson.
Though Scott seems out of immediate danger with his club winning back-to-back games at home, the Nets' problems run deeper than those of the Suns.
The team's ownership is unsettled, and there has been public discussion recently that the disastrous contract given to Alonzo Mourning — which will cost the Nets more than $30 million in salary and luxury tax payments — might eventually force the Nets to trade Kidd, who is owed more than $100 million over the next six seasons.
Mourning retired after playing in just 12 games because of continuing kidney problems.