Steve Nash is hurting right now, badly.
Back and heel issues are ailing the aging Phoenix Suns superstar, who's already plagued by lingering groin problems. And it's affecting his play.
Nash battled through these injuries, particularly during the three games that took place over the long Thanksgiving Day weekend, but he's no Superman. This point was perfectly illustrated on Wednesday night when Nash began to fumbled down the stretch in the Suns double-overtime loss to the scrappy Chicago Bulls. He also faltered a bit as Phoenix saved itself from an embarrassing defeat by the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday and got punked by the Denver Nuggets last night.
Truth be told, the culpability for this situation cannot solely rest upon Nash's ailing body, as head coach Alvin Gentry is calling upon his prize-winning thoroughbred carry the sagging weight of the slumping Suns entirely too much.
He's being shouldered with the burden of compensating for his teammates' woes, to flourish where others are faltering, and to help resuscitate double-digit leads that Planet Orange has been squandering with great regularity.
Take Wednesday night's loss to Da Bulls at US Airways Center during an epic double-overtime situation that should've never transpired.
Phoenix led by 19 points at the end of the first period before coasting into halftime with a six-bucket advantage. Hakim Warrick came huge during the first half with 23 points, while the always-reliable Grant Hill had 15. Then it was Chicago's time to battle back. Warrick's play was snuffed out by Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose, making him a non-factor while Chicago made adjustments on defense and drew to within 12 at the start of the fourth quarter.
Warrick was nullified while Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson seemed to pass the ball more than scoring. So it sat squarely on Nash's shoulders to rekindle the Suns. But like that old saying about the spirit being willing, the point guard couldn't really drive the lane or get his legs under jump shots. He looked tired, which is no surprise considering that Gentry kept him on the floor for 49 minutes. He made mistakes, including caroming a pass off Hakim's flank and dishing out a few airballs.
While Nash faltered, Rose flourished, banging out 35 points during the game and fueling a 14-5 run in the fourth to allow the Bulls to draw even with the Suns and send it into overtime. The Bulls dominated, leading by a two points late in the first OT, but J-Rich's clutch trey with a minute and change to give PHX a 108-107 advantage. It became even more of a nailbiter as Noah sunk a rebound shot, J-Rich drilled a one-pointer from the foul line, and Rose snuck in a last-second layup to tie it up at 112 each. The Bulls powered through the second OT as Phoenix missed seven straight shots and ultimately only scored four points to seal Chicago's 123-115 victory.
The Suns crew blew another ample advantage on Friday, this time to the Los Angeles Clippers. Leading by as much as 25 points at one point, the Clips began whittling away at the score throughout the game. It evaporated down to 16 by halftime, and even got as close as four points in the third. Credit Eric Gordon (36 points) and Ryan Gomes (20 points), who sparked El Lay's offense with 13 of 21 shots in the second, and outshot the Suns 51 to 49 percent from the paint during the game.
Nash struggled at times, but provided a sold 16 points (plus 10 assists) and managed to hold back the tide down the stretch. Grant Hill and J-Rich also contributed, particularly from the foul line, which is where the Suns salvaged the game. The Clippers drew to within 10 with under five minutes to play when Gomes hit a long jumper, followed by a three-point play by Blake Griffin. Nash counteracted with a jumped a few Phoenix players hit their next four free throw opportunities to put the lead back at 13. Gordon attempted a rally in the final minute, but the Suns eeked out a 116-108 win.
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The roles were reversed last night as the Purple and Orange Gang were the ones trying to rally back from a deficit against the Denver Nuggets. Behind a 25-point performance by Chauncey Billups, The Mile-High City squad made mincemeat outta Phoenix's already shoddy defense throughout the contest. Even with Carmelo Anthony leaving the game three minutes in due to the stomach flu, Denver was not to be denied.
Their lead peaked at 19 points by late in the third before Nash helped kick off a 16-9 run in the fourth to pull to within three points. He later nailed a spectacular-looking trey to get his team to that point and later exectured a three-point play to get the Suns only one bucket from the lead with a three-point play with only 22.3 seconds left. Chauncey squashed the Suns at both points with his free-throws to secure the 138-133 win. Nash wasn't the only one who shined, as J-Rich gave a 39-point game and Hill had 22 points.
Phoenix gets most of this week off before traveling to the Bay Area to battle the Golden State Warriors on Thursday evening. Hopefully Nash will invest in some ice packs and downtime to rehab and recuperate from his injuries, as the Suns will probably need him to carry the team once again. Tip-off for Thursday's game is at 8:30 p.m. TV: TNT. Radio: KTAR 620-AM. For more information, visit www.suns.com.