(Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images)

Easy comes hard for these Suns.

Granted, 105-97 doesn’t seem all THAT hard, but after building an 18-point lead largely with reserve power, the Suns found themselves in a 92-92 struggle for survival with 4:50 to play before FINALLY nailing down the victory with an 8-0 run.

Still, as Coach Alvin, speaking for every coach who has ever drawn an X or an O on a blackboard, says, “There is no such thing as a bad win,” and one of the good things about this one is that it drew the Suns into a tie in the loss column with Memphis for the bottom rung in the Western Conference playoff ladder.

It also gave added impetus to the notion fostered over the last two seasons that for the Suns Part Deux of the regular season is winning time. You could, as they say, look it up. Last night’s victory improved the team’s post All-Star break on Alvin Gentry’s watch to 42-19 (29-5 at home).

And although it hit a pothole early in the fourth period, the bench had a huge hand in the outcome, contributing 51 points and 20 rebounds. Four of the subs were in double figures, and while the fifth. Goran Dragic, did not score, he had four assists and showed flashes of his pre-funk form.

The bench was almost entirely responsible for the team’s 14-point halftime lead, and Jared Dudley (17 points) and Marcin Gortat (13 and 12 boards in 32 minutes), were particularly impressive. But old hands, Steve Nash and Grant Hill had their prints all over this one. Nash had all 13 of his points in the second half, including a 90-second seven-point third-period blast that halted Atlanta’s first surge. Oh, and guess who hit the 14-footer that put the Suns up for good after the Hawks had climbed all the way back to even?

As for Hill, his line (7 points, 5 boards, 6 assists) was solid enough, but he also had a large hand in keeping Joe Johnson from going off, and drew a key charge on him late.

The Suns also hit 13 of 26 threes, and the 26 was perhaps more impressive than the 13. There is a large difference between TAKING 26 threes and HAVING 26, and last night the Suns, thanks to excellent execution (again Nash) HAD 26.

In the interest of full disclosure, while the Suns’ late run was very impressive, the Hawks may also have succumbed to that dreaded, often fatal, NBA scourge, back-to-back-it is. They certainly hit wall after Johnson’s three climaxed their long uphill struggle to make it 92-92.

The bottom line: A good way to launch a six-game Eastern swing that figures to go a long way toward determining whether the Suns barge into the playoffs of sneak in.

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