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Paul's back, Booker has 49 as Suns clinch top seed with win in Denver

Paul's back, Booker has 49 as Suns clinch top seed with win in Denver

Chris Paul returned from a broken right wrist to help the Phoenix Suns wrap up the top seed in the NBA playoffs with a 140-130 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Thursday night.

Devin Booker led Phoenix with a season-high 49 points and Paul had 17 points — 15 of them after halftime — and 13 assists in the Suns' seventh straight victory.

The Suns, who won 11 of the 15 games while their 12-time All-Star point guard was out, lead the NBA with a 60-14 record and are trying to make the NBA Finals for a second straight season after losing to Milwaukee last year.

The Nuggets got 28 points from Nikola Jokic, 23 from rookie Bones Hyland and 21 from Aaron Gordon. They shot 59.3% from the floor, but Phoenix was even hotter, hitting at a 60.5% clip.

Mikai Bridges added 22 points for the Suns, who trailed by nine points early on but took the lead for good on Bridges' basket that made it 115-114 midway through the final quarter.

Booker was 16 of 25 from the field, while Bridges was 8 of 9. Booker, Bridges and Deandre Ayton have played well in Paul’s absence and Ayton had a career-high 35 points Wednesday night in a comeback victory at Minnesota. He had 16 on Thursday night.

Paul returned roughly five weeks after breaking his right thumb in a game against Houston on Feb. 16, just before the All-Star break.

“It’s good to have him back,” Suns coach Monty Williams said about an hour before tip-off. “He’s been working diligently to not just get back but play at a level he wants to play. I’m sure the guys are jacked up.”

“I knew he was close to coming back and I was just hoping that wouldn’t be tonight,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said while Paul was warming up at an empty Ball Arena.

The Suns were worried that Paul might miss the remainder of the regular season because of the thumb injury, but the veteran has been active in recent practices in a push to return.

With a nine-game lead over second-place Memphis with eight games left for both teams, the Suns wrapped up the best record in the NBA and home-court throughout the playoffs.

Hyland scored 19 first-half points and sank 5 of 7 long-range jumpers, along the way surpassing Jamal Murray's rookie record of 115 3-pointers in a season, and the Nuggets took a 68-66 lead into the locker room on Jeff Green's 3-pointer.

Booker had 24 points at the break.

TIP-INS

Suns: Have won a season-high seven straight away from home to improve their NBA-best road record to 30-6. Phoenix got off to a slow start, falling behind 9-2 but Paul's first basket tied it at 15 at the 6:33 mark. ... Booker fouled Hyland hard on a shot that wasn't whistled and then got fouled at the other end on a 3-point try. He made all three foul shots while boos rang down from the crowd.

Nuggets: Hyland missed a pair of free throws before scoring the Nuggets' final 10 points of the first quarter. That included a 3-pointer and a three-point play. ... His rushed jumper after losing the handle swished just as the third-quarter buzzer went off, giving Denver a 106-104 lead.

TOAST MALONE

In his first comments since his multi-year contract extension was announced this week, Nuggets coach Michael Malone said, “It's so empowering when you have ownership continue to believe in you. Obviously, seven years in one place in a lifetime in this business. And to know that we have work to do and we’ll be here for a while longer. is just really, really exciting for me and my family.”

UP NEXT

Suns: Host Philadelphia on Sunday.

Nuggets: Host Oklahoma City on Saturday night.

___

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/nba and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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