PHOENIX -- Phoenix Suns forward Charles Barkley, perhaps a bit peeved by the $5,000 fine the NBA levied on him for criticizing an official, took out some frustration on the Washington Bullets last night.
His domination around the basket helped build a big lead through the first three quarters and the Suns cruised to their eighth straight victory, 125-110, in front of 19,023 at America West Arena.
And it is his play that has sparked the Suns to a 15-4 record, best in the NBA.
It was the fourth straight loss for the Bullets (7-14), who wrapped up a five-game road swing with a 1-4 record. Barkley had 36 points, 31 after the first three quarters, and 10 rebounds.
Tom Gugliotta, who received the brunt of the punishment Barkley inflicted, didn't leave without putting a scare into the sellout crowd.
The 6-foot-10 rookie forward from North Carolina State, who had 27 points and nine rebounds, brought the Bullets back from a 17-point deficit to within 97-91 on his three-point basket with 8:45 to play.
"Whoever we seem to put Charles on, it seemed like they just went crazy," said Suns coach Paul Westphal. "If he doesn't start playing defense, I'll just put him on the bench."
That was the closest the Bullets would get, as the Suns' bench, among the NBA's deepest, took over.
Reserve guard Danny Ainge (23 points), finding his spot from three-point range, drilled a 23-foot jumper, and backup point guard Frank Johnson scored to push the Suns' lead back up to 11.
Michael Adams' three-pointer on a feed from Gugliotta -- Washington made 10 of 13 three-pointers -- gave the Bullets hope with 5:22 to play, trailing by seven.
Barkley, who sat out the first four minutes of the final quarter, then sparked a 13-1 run.
pTC "I guess he saw a young player and thought he'd take it to him," said Gugliotta. "He was hot tonight. He'd throw in turn-around jumpers, three-point shots. The guy couldn't miss."
The Bullets, streaky during their five-game Western road trip, started out hot, hitting five of their first six shots and led, 12-6.
The Suns, who shot 60 percent in the first 12 minutes, didn't take their first lead until 2:56 was left in the quarter when Barkley sank two free throws for a 21-20 lead.
The Suns' bench is among the deepest in the NBA, and the Bullets fell deeper into a hole to start the second quarter.
Ainge came in and scored seven points in the first four minutes to help build the Suns' lead to 38-31.
"When I gave Danny Ainge a million dollars, that was the best thing I did," said Barkley, who gave up $1 million from his own contract so the Suns would have enough room under the salary cap to sign the expensive free agent.
The Bullets didn't score in the quarter until LaBradford Smith's three-point play with 9:24 to play.
The Suns built their biggest lead in the half, 59-47, behind Barkley, who had 23 points (eight of 10 shots) and nine rebounds just in the first two quarters.
Barkley's second three-point basket in a five-minute span, followed by Johnson's three-point play, gave the Suns the 12-point bulge with 1:35 left in the half.