Shaq puts up 29 points, 11 boards to steer Suns to victory over Bucks

MILWAUKEE -- If Shaquille O'Neal wants time off, it's just fine with Phoenix Suns coach Terry Porter.

O'Neal had 29 points and 11 rebounds in his return from a one-game break, leading the Suns to a 104-96 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night.

O'Neal was 12-of-16 from the field a night after skipping a game in Chicago as part of a strategy to occasionally rest him during the season.

"I am all for that day off now," Porter said. "We don't have to talk about that again. At this rate, he's getting a day off on back-to-backs. He can have as many days off on back-to-backs as he wants if he plays like this."

O'Neal appreciated getting the chance to save his body from the grind of the game.

"When I get two days, I feel kind of fresh," he said. "Thanks to upper management for that decision. It really paid off well tonight."

O'Neal had three points and six rebounds against Indiana on Wednesday night, but then Porter sat O'Neal for Friday night's game against Chicago.

"Two days off, you can't complain about that," O'Neal said. "That is plenty of rest. And I was really ready to go tonight."

O'Neal played the final 10 minutes of the game and was key to stopping the Bucks' late rally.

The Suns led by nine at the start of the fourth, but Milwaukee cut it to 81-80 with a 13-5 run that Joe Alexander, the Bucks' top pick in the June draft, capped with an 18-foot jumper.

O'Neal answered with a baseline hook and then forced Ramon Sessions to miss a layup on the Bucks' next possession.

"He had a lot of energy tonight," Porter said of his big center. "When we needed him to be a force for us offensively, he really was."

Leandro Barbosa hit a a 3-pointer for the Suns to make it 86-80 with 6:28 to play. Then O'Neal scored on a jump shot, hit two free throws and added one more from the line after Amare Stoudemire made two free throws. Nash's 3-pointer gave the Suns a 12-point margin that helped seal the victory.

Scott Skiles said the Bucks had their opportunities in the fourth, but just couldn't get over the hump.

"We played in spurts tonight and just weren't good enough," he said. "Defensively, we weren't very sharp and offensively, we did a lot of one-on-one tonight."

Phoenix lost to the Bulls 100-83 on Friday night.

"We will just have to figure it out on the nights he is not going to play," Porter said.

Stoudemire, who had 24 points and seven rebounds against Chicago on Friday night and 49 points against Indiana on Wednesday night, added 22 points, making 18 of 20 free throws to help the Suns beat the Bucks for the fifth straight time.

Grant Hill had 13 points and 11 rebounds, and Steve Nash added 16 points and seven assists for Phoenix.

Sessions scored 23 points for the Bucks. Charlie Bell added 16, and Richard Jefferson and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute each had 14 for Milwaukee, which played without guard Michael Redd (sprained right knee) for the third straight game.

O'Neal's dunk with 2:46 left in the third gave the Suns their biggest lead of the game at 73-60.

O'Neal set the tone for the game right away.

The Bucks missed their first seven shots and O'Neal scored the first two baskets. He had grabbed four defensive rebounds before Bell's 16-foot shot for Milwaukee made it 7-2 with 8:39 left in the quarter.

O'Neal played 11 minutes, scored eight points and had seven rebounds in the first.

Porter led the Bucks to the playoffs as a coach, but was fired after the 2004-05 season when Milwaukee finished 30-52.

Game notes
Phoenix F Matt Barnes missed his third game of the four-game road trip to be with his wife and newborn twins. ... The Bucks helped celebrate the commissioning of the USS Freedom (LCS-1) Saturday morning by providing tickets to the crew and their guests. The sailors and officers were honored at the end of the first quarter.

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