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Suns rise to the occasion

Bryant ejected in Lakers' loss

The NBA's most improved player kept the Phoenix Suns alive in the playoffs, and Kobe Bryant wasn't even around to see the finish.

Boris Diaw -- presented with the most-improved trophy before the game -- had 25 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists, and the host Suns rolled to a 114-97 victory over Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers last night.

The Lakers still lead the best-of-seven series 3-2 with Game 6 tomorrow night in Los Angeles.

Bryant, who scored 29 points, was thrown out after drawing his second technical foul with 3:11 to play. His nemesis in the series, Raja Bell, was tossed after throwing Bryant to the floor for his second technical with 7:33 left.

The two had been called for a double-technical in the second quarter.

Kwame Brown scored 14 points on 6-for-6 shooting for the Lakers, but was plagued by foul trouble. He started hours after Los Angeles police said he was being investigated for a possible sexual assault. Before the game, Brown issued a statement through the team office saying he was ''completely innocent of any wrongdoing."

Steve Nash scored 22 points and Shawn Marion 21 for the Suns in their highest-scoring game of the series. Tim Thomas added 13 and Leandro Barbosa 11.

Lamar Odom added 18 for the Lakers.

After Bell threw Bryant down, he pointed to the Lakers' bench and yelled, ''That's your foul."

After Bell left, Bryant made one of two free throws, then sank a 3-pointer to cut the Suns' lead to 93-83 with 7:17 left. The teams traded baskets, then Barbosa and Marion sank 3-pointers to trigger a 12-0 run that sealed the victory. Diaw scored the last four to make it 107-85.

Brown was in the starting lineup and scored 6 points before going to the bench after drawing his third foul with 1:57 left in the first quarter.

Whether Brown's problems were a distraction for Los Angeles or not, the Suns finally got their fast-paced game in gear to blow open a 22-point third-quarter lead.

The Suns shot out to a 15-5 lead, their biggest advantage since Game 1, but the Lakers finished the first quarter with a 7-2 spurt, including Bryant's first 5 points of the game. His 3-point play with 1.8 seconds remaining cut Phoenix's lead to 27-25 after one.

Heat 92, Bulls 78 -- Dwyane Wade's hip was smarting from a frightening first-half tumble, and the Heat were trailing by 5 in the season's biggest game.

Then he returned to save the day -- and perhaps the season -- for Miami.

Wade scored 28 points, 15 after returning from the training room, and host Miami beat Chicago to take a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference first-round series.

''A little shot in the butt," Wade said, describing the painkilling shot he took. ''It started kicking in after a couple minutes out there and I felt good after that."

Antoine Walker scored 17 points and Shaquille O'Neal added 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Heat, who can close the series out in Chicago when Game 6 is played tomorrow.

Andres Nocioni had 23 points and 10 rebounds for the Bulls, who managed to shoot only 35 percent. Michael Sweetney had 16 points and Ben Gordon added 10 for Chicago -- on 3-for-16 shooting, only slightly worse than backcourt mate Kirk Hinrich's 3-for-13 effort.

Wade's return coincided with the start of a 21-6 Miami run, which gave the Heat a 71-61 lead with 8:12 remaining.

Spurs 109, Kings 98 -- Host San Antonio refused to be pushed around by Bonzi Wells and Ron Artest -- no matter how many points the Sacramento pair scored.

Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker helped the Spurs overcome a combined 62 points from Wells and Artest, going into the lane for five straight baskets down the stretch to pull out a victory that gave them a 3-2 lead in their first-round series.

Eighth-seeded Sacramento still has a chance of pulling off the upset, but it won't be easy. The Kings must win Friday night at home to force a Game 7 in San Antonio Sunday.

Ginobili led the Spurs with 27 points and nine rebounds. Duncan had 24 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists. Parker added 21 points and defensive specialist Bruce Bowen scored 16.

Wells scored 38, including half of Sacramento's first 56 points. Once he cooled off, Artest got going, scoring 14 of his 24 points in the final period.

Nets 92, Pacers 86 -- Vince Carter had 34 points, 15 rebounds, and a game-clinching dunk with 28 seconds to play and host New Jersey downed Indiana to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven first-round series.

Richard Jefferson added 24 points and Jason Kidd set a team-postseason record with 15 assists as New Jersey won its second straight game in the series.

Game 3 will be played in Indianapolis tomorrow night. If a deciding Game 7 is necessary, it will be played at the Meadowlands Saturday.

Jermaine O'Neal scored 19 points and Anthony Johnson 14 for the Pacers.

As expected, Pacers forward Peja Stojakovic missed his second straight game and third in the series with a knee injury. But starting center Jeff Foster also sat out with a back problem.

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