The cover of the Suns’ game-night program on Monday featured a cartoon of Shawn Marion rising over a couple of frog-like aliens for one of his patented Matrix throwdowns.

Shawn Marion is known for his dunks but showed a prowess for 3-point shots on Monday night.

(NBAE Photos)

Fan artist Erik Van Buren titled his unique creation “Planet Dunk-On-Ya,” but might have drawn Marion launching missiles instead had he known what the All-Star forward was going to drop on the Denver Nuggets.

Coming off a disappointing six-point outing in Saturday’s loss to New Orleans, Marion came out on fire in this one, draining 5-of-7 three-pointers as the Suns ran out to a sizzling 78-point first half. His inspired effort resulted in a well-rounded 27-point, 14-board, six-block, five-fist-pump stat line at night’s end, not to mention a half dozen jokes “just messin’” with reporters in the locker room after the 137-115 blowout.

But Marion was not the most surprising UNLV alum on the hardwood at US Airways Center on Monday, believe it or not. Way-back-up guard Marcus Banks kept his 2008 streak intact, playing in his third straight game after checking in just three times in December, and had his best showing since signing with Phoenix in 2006.

“He was crackin’!” said Marion of his fellow Runnin’ Rebel. In addition to playing some aggressive D on Nuggets scorer Allen Iverson, Banks buried 7-of-8 deep balls for 23 points in 19 impressive minutes.

“I guess Shawn handed me the hot hand,” laughed Banks, who was all smiles surrounded by reporters for the first time this season. “He came out and hit about five of them, and I was like ‘Man, that looks pretty fun!’”

Banks realizes, of course, that minutes will continue to be hard to come by on a team featuring four All-Stars (Marion, Nash, Stoudemire, Hill), a Sixth Man of the Year (Barbosa) and an All-Defensive First Teamer (Bell). But his recent run has given him confidence that the next time he plays he will be ready.

“It’s definitely contagious,” he said. “I hope to build from this game, not so much scoring wise, but in other areas on the floor, just helping my team and doing whatever it takes to win.”

DJ DEVELOPING IN ALBUQUERQUE

Suns guard Alando Tucker, who will be our featured guest on this week’s edition of Nothin’ But Net (plug, plug), was happy to hear that fellow rookie DJ Strawberry was named D-League Performer of the Week today.

Strawberry, on assignment to the Albuquerque Thunderbirds, won the award a month after Tucker took the honors.

“I was excited,” Alando said of DJ’s recognition. “I told him he had to do it, since I did it. That’s one of the things we talked about when he went down there. I told him to focus and make sure you play hard. When I went down there I didn’t really know what to expect, so I tried to fill him in and make him comfortable before he went down there.”

The Suns are expected to call Strawberry back up to Phoenix and send Tucker back down to Albuquerque at some point, taking full advantage of the NBA, D-League affiliation system, now in its third season.

“I think it helps keep them in game shape more than anything,” said Suns Head Coach Mike D’Antoni, who has been keeping an eye on Strawberry’s stats in the DL. “In past years they would have just sat all year and done nothing. They need to play some.

“Hopefully it will help him. I’m looking forward to him coming back, practicing some and seeing where he is. I think it’s been very beneficial for him.”

HILL PULLING FOR COWBOYS

If anybody in the Suns’ locker room could break down the NFL Playoffs it would be Grant Hill, son of former Pro Bowl running back, Calvin Hill. Or so I thought. The Suns’ forward admitted during a little pre-game small talk that he doesn’t actually follow the NFL all that closely.

“I was forbidden to play football growing up, so as a result I’m not a big football fan,” he explained. “My dad didn’t play until he was in high school, so he didn’t want me to play until high school. And by then, I didn’t want to play.

“But I do root for the Cowboys. That is my team and it’s good to see that they’re playing well. I’ll be watching them next Sunday. I’m hoping they can make it here to Glendale (for Super Bowl XLII).”

Okay, so Hill may not have had the inside scoop on the NFL I was hoping for, as I scout for my fantasy football playoffs. But he probably would have an interesting take on Cowboys QB Tony Romo’s relationship with Jessica Simpson, I figured, as an athlete who married a pop star himself.

“I really don’t know what’s going on there,” he laughed. “I’m out of the loop on that. But I know things in Dallas with that team and that franchise get blown out of proportion. Apparently T.O. was just joking around (about Simpson being a diversion) and it became big news. But I think the guys will be ready and there will be no distractions. They’ll be ready to play.”

Finally, in other celebrity news, our own Steve Nash and his wife Alejandra were pictured in the latest issue of US Magazine (my wife pointed out it out), strolling the streets of Beverly Hills on the day after Christmas with actress Jessica Alba and her new fiancée Warren Cash.

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