Nash Leads Suns Past Mavs for 10th Straight
Phoenix 115, Dallas 107
DALLAS, March 5 (Ticker) -- Any discussion about the elite teams of the Western Conference now must include Steve Nash's Phoenix Suns.
Nash had 25 points and 11 assists and fueled a fourth-quarter rally as the Suns won their season-high 10th straight game with a 115-107 victory over the Dallas Mavericks, who had their franchise-record 16-game home winning streak snapped.
Despite winning 62 games and reaching the Western Conference finals a year ago, the Suns have not been mentioned much as a serious contender. Most of that talk has revolved around the Mavericks and defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs, who have jockeyed for the conference's best record all season.
"They deserve it," Nash said. "They've separated themselves and had terrific seasons. We respect what they've done and they deserve all of the talk they have gotten."
"Primarily, it's going to be about San Antonio because they are the defending champions," said Phoenix forward Shawn Marion, who had 22 points and 10 rebounds. "San Antonio and Dallas are neck-and-neck in a race for first place in the division.
The Suns were set back by All-Star center Amare Stoudemire's knee surgery and a 4-5 start that included some struggles on their home floor. However, Phoenix (41-17) put together a nine-game winning streak that carried into December and is hot again.
"It's going to be a race down to the end in the Western Conference," Marion said. "They aren't sleeping on us either, believe that. We're right there. We've just got to keep doing what we've got to do and build on it to get ready for the playoffs."
The driving force remains Nash, the reigning NBA MVP who again victimized his former team and good buddy Dirk Nowitzki. He orchestrated an offense that rang up 34 points in the fourth quarter and dealt Dallas its first home loss since December 30 vs. Golden State.
"It was a little more than a normal game in that we had a win streak going and they had a home streak going and the fact that they've had a terrific year," Nash said. "It's a good win for us to beat a really good team on their home floor."
"We weren't good enough in the fourth quarter," Nowitzki said. "You have to play for 48 minutes against a team like Phoenix. They made shots off of our mistakes. We turned the ball over and you can't do that."
A three-point play by Nowitzki gave the Mavericks a 100-97 lead with 5:06 remaining before Nash took over. He found Diaw with a lefthanded pass for a dunk, then hit him again for a reverse layup that became a three-point play.
Leandro Barbosa made a layup before Nash's 3-pointer completed a 10-0 spurt that gave Phoenix a 107-100 lead with 2:25 to go.
"Our energy was great," Nash said. "I think our activity was key. We just scrapped a little more and we were a little more determined."
Dallas closed to 107-104 before Nash converted a beautiful reverse layup, flipping it in lefthanded over the 7-foot Nowitzki with 1:15 left. Jason Terry made a 3-pointer, but Marion put in a layup off a loose ball before Barbosa and Nash each buried two free throws to seal it.
"I got by (Nowitzki) and I decided to keep him on my hip and try to get a foul," Nash said. "At the last second, he kind of just backed off a little bit. I just tried to get it up on the rim."
Barbosa scored 20 points off the bench for the Suns, who shot 54 percent (45-of-83) overall and erased a 13-point second-half deficit.
"I feel comfortable and my teammates set up a lot of plays for me," Barbosa said. "I just want to be ready because everything happens so quickly. I'm ready. If I have to shoot, I will shoot."
Nowitzki scored 25 points, Marquis Daniels added 22 and Terry 21 for the Mavericks, who shot 52 percent (45-of-86) but cooled considerably in the second half.
Dallas (46-13) has lost two of three - to San Antonio and Phoenix - after winning 19 of 20. It fell one-half game behind San Antonio (46-12).
"It's two disappointing loses but we can't really hang our heads down because we were right there," Nowitzki said. "We had our chances to beat both of them. We know what we need to do. We still have over 20 games left. We have to improve on both ends of the floor. We'll work harder in practice and be there hopefully be there in April, May and June."
One of the deepest teams in the league, Dallas' bench was outscored, 35-23. The Mavericks were without forward Josh Howard (hamstring), guard Devin Harris (thigh) and forward KeithVan Horn (knee).
"We never make excuses with injures," Nowitzki said. "We would love to have Josh out there. Same with Devin. (But) we should have won the game with the guys that we had."
The Mavericks held an 89-81 lead entering the fourth quarter. A fast-break layup by recently acquired Tim Thomas capped a 9-0 surge and gave the Suns their first lead of the second half at 97-95 with 6:39 remaining.
In the first half, Dallas shot a blistering 63 percent (26-of-41) and opened a 62-51 lead behind 16 points from Nowitzki.
"In the first half, they were knocking down some good shots," Marion said. "We were missing our shots but we were right there. We focused in the second half and buckled down and got some good stops when we needed to."