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AFTER EARLY SEASON STRUGGLES, SUNS SEEMINGLY ON RISE AGAIN

SHARE AFTER EARLY SEASON STRUGGLES, SUNS SEEMINGLY ON RISE AGAIN

After struggling through the first half of the season, the Phoenix Suns appear to be on the rise again.

Charles Barkley and Kevin Johnson, who both returned from injuries last week, scored 18 points apiece Wednesday night as the Suns routed the Atlanta Hawks 120-84."I'm really pleased with the way our team is playing right now," coach Cotton Fitzsimmons said after watching his team win for the fifth time in seven games. "We're starting to get healthy and we're going to try our very best to make a run at it."

The Suns should get another boost when Danny Manning returns Friday night at Cleveland. Manning has yet to play this season because of a knee injury.

"The key for us is health, and we've got another piece of the puzzle coming back," Barkley said.

Wesley Person scored 22 points for the Suns, who shot a sizzling 64 percent from the field.

"I think we're turning the corner," said Johnson, who had nine assists. "We haven't turned it fully yet, but we're heading in the right direction."

Atlanta is heading in the wrong direction. After having their 10-game winning streak snapped at Indiana the previous night, the Hawks returned home and suffered their worst loss in nearly three years.

"We're didn't have our legs tonight," coach Lenny Wilkens said. "We couldn't guard a paper bag."

Phoenix had no problems scoring against Atlanta's normally stingy defense. The Hawks allowed 100 points just once during their winning streak, but the Suns reached the century mark with more than nine minutes remaining in the game.

"They beat us every way they could," Wilkens said.

Fitzsimmons took over the Suns on Jan. 17 after Paul Westphal was fired. Phoenix is still only 19-23, but the Suns could make a strong second-half run if they stay healthy.

"After we got started, it was pretty impossible for them to get back in the ballgame," Fitzsimmons said. "We made a good team look horrible."

Cavaliers 81, Bucks 71

At Cleveland, Terrell Brandon had 23 points, nine assists, eight rebounds and a career-high five blocks as the Cavaliers handed Milwaukee its fourth straight loss. Brandon's performance came one day after he made his first All-Star team. The Bucks matched their season low for points and shot just 35 percent from the field against Cleveland, which has won its last eight meetings with Milwaukee. Glenn Robinson scored 21 points for the Bucks.

Celtics 131, Grizzlies 98

At Boston, Todd Day scored 24 points as the Celtics rolled to their most lopsided victory of the season. Vancouver was coached by assistant Rex Hughes, who filled in for Brian Winters. Winters missed the game due to the death of his mother-in-law. Bryant Reeves, Byron Scott and Eric Murdock each scored 16 points for the Grizzlies, who lost their third straight. Eric Williams scored 17 points for Boston.

Spurs 115, Clippers 106

At San Antonio, Avery Johnson scored a season-high 26 points and Vinny Del Negro added 23 for the Spurs. Pooh Richardson led the Clippers with 24 points, including four 3-pointers. David Robinson had 15 points and 10 rebounds for San Antonio. Clippers coach Bill Fitch was ejected in the third quarter after getting two technical fouls for arguing a call and slightly bumping an official. The victory was San Antonio's second straight after losing four of five.