PHOENIX -- Amare Stoudemire scored 12 points in his first game in eight months, and the Phoenix Suns used a strong defensive effort to beat Partizan Belgrade 111-80 on Tuesday night in their preseason opener.
The Suns, who insist they will improve their defense this season, held the Serbian team to two field goals in the second quarter -- none in the first nine minutes -- and outscored them 35-15 in the period.
"Defense is what we've been keying on," Stoudemire said. "The guys hustled and put forth the effort on defense. The guys brought it and executed."
Goran Dragic led the balanced Suns with 16 points and Jason Richardson had 15. Jared Dudley scored 14, while Grant Hill and Channing Frye 10 apiece. Stoudemire was playing his first game since undergoing surgery to repair a detached retina Feb. 20. He played with a protective mask.
Nineteen-year-old Jan Vesely topped Partizan with 16 points and Aleksandar Maric had 14.
The refocused Suns, one of the NBA's worst defensive teams last season, showed their emphasis on defense this year by forcing Partizan into 22 first-half turnovers, resulting in 24 points, including 14 miscues in the sloppy first quarter. They also held the visitors to 32 percent shooting overall (9 for 28), and 1 for 10 from 3-point range. Phoenix had 14 steals and a 55-34 lead by halftime.
"I thought we did a good job defensively," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. "We made some progress in our defense. I like the effort and the communication part of what we did on defense."
Partizan Belgrade finished with 36 turnovers, leading to 36 points.
It was a typical opening preseason game, with little fluidity on offense early in the game for the Suns. They started newcomer Frye at center, in place of the traded Shaquille O'Neal, and second-year pro Dragic at point guard, replacing All-Star Steve Nash, sidelined with a chest cold.
The first period was particularly embarrassing for the Suns, as they committed eight turnovers and led only 20-19. After an 11-0 run in the first three minutes of the opening quarter following an early field goal by Partizan, the Suns made only two field goals the rest of the period.
Once they got their offense clicking in the second quarter, the Suns turned the game into a rout over the young team from Belgrade.
Phoenix assistant Igor Kokoskov coached Partizan Belgrade from 1997-99. ... Partizan is one of three Euroleague teams playing two exhibition games each in the United States this year. The Serbian team, winners of the Adriatic League and the Serbian National Cup last season, lost its opener 102-70 to the Denver Nuggets on Saturday night.
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