Phoenix 109, Cleveland 90

Phoenix, Jan. 11 (AP) -- Steve Nash is considered a magician with a basketball, and Thursday night, he was at his magical best.

Nash had a season-high 21 assists, becoming the first player in nine years with two 20-assist games in a season and leading the Phoenix Suns to their eighth straight victory, 109-90 over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

"He had more assists than I had points, and I had a pretty good scoring night,'' James Jones, who scored 13, said with a laugh. "He can take the heart out of an opposing team.''

Nash's remarkable display certainly took the heart out of the Cavaliers, who came into the game with a five-game winning streak and the best record in the Eastern Conference.

"He's a great point guard, he's the two-time MVP for a reason and their guys feed off him well,'' the Cavaliers' Donyell Marshall said.

The Suns not only fed off Nash, but several of their other players as well. Overall, the unselfish Suns had 33 assists on 37 baskets.

Nash, who had 20 assists against Sacramento on Dec. 5, joined Avery Johnson, now the Dallas coach, as the last two players to reach that total in the same season. Johnson did it in 1997-98. Nash's career high is 22, against New York on Jan. 2, 2006.

LeBron James scored 34 points, including the first 14 of the fourth quarter, for the Cavaliers. But through the first three quarters, James was generally held in check by Shawn Marion.

James was somewhat disappointed with the Cavaliers' performance.

"It's just one game,'' he said. "It can be a little disappointing, but we don't look at it like that. We have to learn from whatever we did. We did some good things, but we also did some bad things.''

Marion led the balanced Phoenix offense with 19 points, while Raja Bell had 18, Amare Stoudemire 17, Leandro Barbosa 16 and James 13. Stoudemire also had 13 rebounds and Marion 11.

"It feels good for me to see my teammates succeed and score, and that's the bottom line: to get guys involved and have them make shots,'' Nash said. "When we get rolling offensively, we can put those other teams away.

"We played with a lot of concentration, something we haven't done in the last couple of weeks.''

In a battle of two of the league's NBA elite - Cleveland (22-13) leads the East and Phoenix (27-8) is second in the West - it was no contest. After three quarters, the Suns had built a 32-point lead, 91-59, and Cleveland never seriously threatened in the fourth period.

The Suns completed the first half with a flourish, outscoring the Cavaliers 21-2 in the final 5:16 of the second quarter and had a 67-41 lead at halftime. Marion, who had been scoreless in the first period, triggered the burst with 11 points, including two vicious dunks.

Nash, who also was scoreless in the opening period, overcame some poor shooting with his pinpoint passing, and by halftime he already had 14 assists.

Stoudemire already had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds, and Bell also had 12 points. The Suns were so dominant they had outscored Cleveland 30-10 in the paint and 17-3 on fast-break points.

The revved-up Suns, playing before a raucous capacity crowd of 18,422 and a national television audience, played flawless basketball in the first period. With Stoudemire scoring 10 points and grabbing nine rebounds, they built a 33-26 lead while not committing a turnover.

James and Drew Gooden were the only effective Cleveland players in the first half. James scored 16 points and Gooden nine.

Notes: If Nash continues his pace of averaging more than 20 points and 10 assists, he would become the first NBA guard to finish the season with those figures since Tim Hardaway in 1992-93. ... Andre Miller is the only other player to record at least 20 assists in a game this season. He posted 20 against the Heat on Dec. 8, 2006. ... James, Stoudemire and Marion were teammates on the 2004 U.S. Olympic team that won a bronze medal ... Barbosa and the Cavaliers' Anderson Varejao led Brazil to the gold medal at the 2005 FIBA Americas Championship.


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