ORLANDO – Shaquille O’Neal had restored his status as a force in the pivot in the previous two games for the Phoenix Suns by scoring a combined 78 points.
But Tuesday’s game would re-establish the Suns’ status if they could record a second consecutive victory over an elite team.
They appeared on their way to doing just that until the offense began to struggle, going six minutes of crunch time without making a shot on the way to a 111-99 loss to the Magic.
Phoenix had been 30-2 this season when entering the fourth quarter with a lead. But after shooting 50 percent for 3 1/2 quarters, they made just 2 of their final 14 shots.
“We’re a scoring team,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. “We can’t have 18 (points) in the fourth.
“We didn’t impose our will on them, as far as the pace of the game and the tempo we wanted to play.”
The Suns took 90 shots and committed 21 turnovers. In between the scoring, the Suns stood around, spaced poorly and struggled to feed the ball to O’Neal.
“We were a little bit hesitant at times,” O’Neal said. “We’d still like to get up and down. They were doubling like I expected they would.
“I’d like to play people one-on-one. My whole career, I had to play people one-on-one. I not once had to double and not once asked for a double. I’d like to show people I’m still unstoppable. I understand (Magic coach) Stan Van Gundy’s front-double defense. That’s what you’re supposed to do to a 37-year-old.”
O’Neal finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Orlando’s Dwight Howard had 21 points and eight rebounds.
Orlando gave the Suns chances by committing 24 turnovers, which were just as self-imposed as the Suns’ miscues.
Steve Nash returned after missing a week because of an ankle injury and found his shot for 15 first-half points, but he made nearly as many turnovers (seven) as assists (eight).
Jason Richardson scored 11 of his team-high 27 points in the third quarter to send the Suns to the fourth leading 81-78, and his 3-pointer with 7:49 to go put Phoenix ahead 91-88.
Pistons 100, Nuggets 95: At Auburn Hills, Mich., Chauncey Billups scored a season-high 34 points in his return to the Palace, but the Pistons won.
Bobcats 96, Bulls 80: At Charlotte, N.C., Raymond Felton had 18 points and nine assists, Raja Bell also scored 18 points and Charlotte won its season-high fourth straight.
Nets 99, Bucks 95: At Milwaukee, Brook Lopez scored 24 points and grabbed 12 rebounds and Jarvis Hayes hit a tie-breaking 3-pointer with 18 seconds left to lift New Jersey over Milwaukee.
Rockets 107, Raptors 97: At Houston, Carl Landry matched a career high with 22 points, Luis Scola added 20 points and 16 rebounds and Houston extended its home-court win streak to 10.
Warriors 118, Timberwolves 94: At Minneapolis, Stephen Jackson, who had been benched the past two games as part of coach Don Nelson’s youth movement, had 23 points, seven rebounds and six assists to lead Golden State.
Lakers 99, Grizzlies 89: At Los Angeles, Kobe Bryant scored 31 points and Los Angeles ended a two-game skid.
Pacers 117, Kings 109: At Sacramento, Calif., Jarrett Jack scored 26 points and Troy Murphy had 23 points for Indiana.