Suns shine early to pull away from Lakers

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PHOENIX (Reuters) - The Phoenix Suns cruised to a 118-103 victory over Pacific Division rivals the LA Lakers on Monday, the home side seizing control early and stretching their advantage through each of the four quarters.

Amare Stoudemire had a team-high 26 points and Steve Nash recorded 16 points and 13 assists to give the Suns (20-12) their first win over the Western Conference-leading Lakers this season.

"We played with toughness and grit," Nash told reporters, with the Suns having lost three of four coming into the game. "We had to get back to that training-camp underdog mentality when many NBA observers picked the Suns as a lottery team."

Kobe Bryant managed 34 points but Los Angeles slipped too far behind in the third quarter before suffering their second loss in three games.

The Lakers (24-6) had blasted Phoenix by a combined 39 points in two previous wins this campaign but the Suns gained some revenge in the home confines of U.S. Airways Center, where they are 12-2 this season.

Clinging to a six-point advantage midway through the third, Phoenix surged with a 14-2 run over the next two minutes to go up 84-66.

Bryant sat out the final 7:50 for the Lakers as the game was out of reach.

The All-Star guard has been carrying much of the defending NBA champions' scoring load in recent games where the Lakers have looked vulnerable, especially in a lopsided loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Christmas Day.

Andrew Bynum had 14 points and nine rebounds in the latest loss, and Pau Gasol added 13.

Forward Ron Artest missed his second straight game for the Lakers after sustaining a concussion and injured elbow in an accident at his home.

"I don't think Ron would have had anything to do with this ball game," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "But (his presence) would have helped our bench."

The Suns received an unexpected boost from Jared Dudley, who tied a career high with 19 points off the bench. The Suns reserves were particularly important and tallied 52 points.

(Writing by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; Editing by John O'Brien)