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Just like the good old days: Steve Nash has the Suns' high-octane offense thriving.
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Return of old, familiar Suns brings back familiar Nash, too

Posted Nov 13 2009 11:27AM

Remember when Michael Jordan attempted to play baseball? Or Madonna tried to act? Or how about -- God help us all -- Arnold Schwarzenegger running the great state of California as governor?

There are just some things that people should not try.

Oh, I certainly understand and highly encourage the desire to branch out beyond one's own natural talents in an attempt to diversify character; being pigeonholed can feel so darn constraining.


But more often than not, the grass is only greener because there is some undetected sewage leaking from a burst pipe buried on the other side of the fence.

Having plied you with that extraordinary visual, I think it's safe to say that the Phoenix Suns never should have done that slow-down thing with which they experimented last season.

Yes, the run-and-gun thing was wildly successful in the regular season, only to be depressingly shattered by the officials conveniently swallowing their whistles during the playoffs and allowing lockdown defenses to be exacted in the most unflattering exposure.

But isn't losing a heartbreaking series in the postseason far better than not getting there at all? Why don't we ask some unwitting Timberwolves fan if they'd rather have a first-round flameout or a 20-win season.

And so the Phoenix Sun are once again the Phoenix Suns, taking full advantage of the way they were constructed, and Steve Nash is again among the best players in the league.

In fact, right now, I'd say Nash is right there with Kobe Bryant for Most Valuable Player, leading the Suns to an 8-2 record despite the fact that seven of Phoenix's first 10 games have been on the road (including Thursday's 121-102 loss in Los Angeles).

Had the Suns actually won Thursday, The Race would have placed Nash at the top. However, given Bryant's dominance in that game and throughout, he clearly deserves the top honor.

Still, Nash should not go unrecognized. This is the first time the Suns have started this well since the 1980-81 season, which is before many of today's players were even born. And behind Nash's leadership, the Suns have eclipsed 100 points in each of their games this year.

The thing I like so much about Nash is that he makes it look so effortless. Do you realize how difficult it is to split two defenders converging to double-team a pick-and-roll, get inside a hovering defense and finish off a drive with a finger roll? Nash does that every game, cleverly using his body to shield off larger defenders.

This may be sacrilege, but I think Nash runs the pick and roll than John Stockton. He just seems to instinctively know when it's the right time to deliver the perfect pass to set up a teammate for an easy score. He certainly has a wider variety of passes than Stockton employed.

Who knows how long Phoenix's current run of success can last? And who knows how long Nash, at age 35, can play this well. But what I do know is that if the regular season ended today, Nash would be right there among the leaders for MVP.

1. Kobe Bryant, Lakers (7-1)
Last Week's Rank - 3
Like so many of his opponents this year, Kobe has brought The Race to its knees. How can you not place him at the top, with Los Angeles' convincing 121-102 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Thursday distancing him from his competitors. And Kobe is doing this without Pau Gasol. Like Jordan, Kobe can bring it on both ends of the floor. He is leading the league in scoring and dogs opponents relentlessly. He has incorporated Ron Artest into the offense, as he has done with so many other teammates. His work ethic is unparalleled and his talent is not debatable. It might be boring if he stays here the remainder of the season, but there is no question he should be here now.

2. Steve Nash, Suns (8-2)
Last Week's Rank - 6
Nash looks rejuvenated and completely in his element. In one game last week, he had 21 points and 20 assists, helping to directly account for 61 points. Who knows how much that figure would swell to if the NBA employed the hockey assist. He also had a game with 16 assists and is currently leading the league in that department. Don't forget, his Suns are off to one the best starts in franchise history and Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire are working seamlessly together.

3. Paul Pierce, Celtics (8-1)
Last Week's Rank - 2
Pierce dropped a spot by virtue of the Celtics' lone loss, which came to Phoenix and allowed Nash to leapfrog him. He still resides on the team that possesses the best record in the NBA and unquestionably draws the most attention from defenses. With the return of KG, his game seems to have become more efficient. The argument will always be made that he does not post enough numbers to warrant this high a ranking, but The Race likes winners.

4. LeBron James, Cavaliers (6-3)
Last Week's Rank - 10
Watch out, LeBron seems to be settling into a rhythm with his teammates and is starting to look more comfortable with Shaq. It's an amazing thing to watch how much floor space a man his size can cover in such a short amount of time, but the guy is truly a freak of nature.

5. Dwyane Wade, Heat (6-2)
Last Week's Rank - 4
Thursday night's outcome was the deciding factor in the rankings for Wade and LeBron. Incredible players, incredible accomplishments, and so the thing separating them -- at least for this week -- is the winner and loser in head-to-head play. Wade is playing extraordinarily well right now, throwing up a couple 40-plus point outings to keep hoops alive in south Florida.

6. Carmelo Anthony, Nuggets (6-3)
Last Week's Rank - 1
Ouch! Tough fall from the top spot for Anthony, whose Nuggets swiftly went from undefeated to a three-loss team, including dropping a game to the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night. Yes, they were on an extended road trip for the first time this year. But good teams should fare better. Carmelo posted numbers but struggled from the floor, shooting just 40 percent. He gets a chance to reclaim some stature when he faces Kobe and the Lakers on Friday.

7. Chris Bosh, Raptors (4-4)
Last Week's Rank - 9
Because he lives north of the border for at least a while longer, Bosh doesn't get all the ink he probably deserves. But this guy is putting up incredibly solid numbers on a nightly basis and The Race believes he is ripe for consistently being among the top five if his team can win more often. He averaged 28 points and 10 rebounds last week, plus had a 9-for-9 shooting night in a win over New Orleans. He has scored more than 20 points in 14 consecutive games, the longest streak in the NBA. He has a game next week against Carmelo that should be interesting.

8. Brandon Roy, Blazers (6-3)
Last Week's Rank - N/A
The Race remembers when Roy was coming out of Washington, and more than one scout questioned whether he was ever going to amount to more than a utility player. Hard to believe that same unheralded kid has emerged into one of the league's best players, making his debut on this board. Roy's numbers are never going to be outlandish because he does not play in a system that really promotes that -- and because Nate McMillan often likes to take the air out of the ball. But he is irrefutably the best player on a Blazers team that went 3-0 last week .

9. Dwight Howard, Magic (6-3)
Last Week's Rank - 5
The Race lost a little love for El Capitan this week after his Magic went 2-2 to sit at 6-3. He did zilch against Shaq in Wednesday's game -- though Shaq will never forget getting dunked on by Howard as a youngster and then Howard talking stuff. (Too bad Shaq was not that motivated every night.) Howard was solid but not spectacular in wins over Charlotte and Milwaukee. The Race needs more. On the floor -- not from his Twitter account.

10. Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks (5-3)
Last Week's Rank - N/A
The Mavericks' mainstay makes his first appearance in The Race, though he was on the cusp last week. Nowitzki, solid as always, has his team atop the Southwest Division. The loss to a Duncan-less, Parker-less San Antonio didn't help him out, particularly since he was 9-for-27 in that game. Still, he averaged 27 points and 10 rebounds this week after hopefully putting his girlfriend troubles behind him.

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