Steve Nash was the NBA's MVP when Deron Williams was playing in the NCAA Final Four and again when Williams was struggling through a mediocre rookie year with the Utah Jazz.

Nash is still one of the league's best, but Williams might soon be winning some awards of his own.

Two of the NBA's premier point guards go head-to-head on Friday when Williams' surging Utah Jazz visit Nash's struggling Phoenix Suns.

It wasn't long ago that the Suns (40-21) were the Western Conference's best team, but lately it's been the Jazz (40-22) that have looked more capable of running through the West's playoff gauntlet.

Phoenix is 3-5 since Shaquille O'Neal joined its starting lineup, and is allowing 111.6 points in those eight games. Utah, meanwhile, has lost just four times in its last 22 contests, and has gone from a .500 team near the end of 2007 to one of the league's best in 2008.

Williams has been the Jazz's most important player during the turnaround. He averaged 8.7 assists in 2007 and has increased that figure to 11.6 in 2008. He's also become more of a distributor, helping his team go 23-6 since Jan. 1.

"He runs the show and each time he takes the court he gets better," Dallas coach Avery Johnson said on Monday after Williams finished with 20 assists in Utah's 116-110 win over the Mavericks.

Utah is 26-3 this season when Williams has 11 or more assists.

He finished with 21 points and 11 assists on Wednesday as Utah used a 15-0 third-quarter run to turn a close game into a 105-76 rout of Minnesota.

"I thought that third quarter was one of the best quarters we've played this year,'' said Williams, who's averaging 14.8 assists in his last five games.

Many of Williams' assists go to All-Star forward Carlos Boozer, who's averaging a career-high 21.5 points. Though he's shooting 62.1 percent, Boozer is scoring only 18.0 ppg in his last five. He may need to pick up the slack on Friday, as Utah will be without forward Andrei Kirilenko (11.4 ppg), who injured his hip Monday after being hit by Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki.

The focus away from the court in Phoenix has been on O'Neal since the big man's arrival last month, but Nash still makes the Suns go. He's averaging 15.0 points and 10.3 assists in his last four games - both below his season averages - and Phoenix has lost three of four.

But with Amare Stoudemire (23.9 ppg) and Leandro Barbosa (16.5) around, offense isn't usually a problem for the Suns. Their defense, however, has become a major concern.

The Suns are giving up 114.3 points in their last six games and have allowed at least 119 four times since O'Neal joined the lineup. It happened again on Wednesday, as they allowed 68 first-half points en route to a 126-113 loss at Denver.

"I think for us it is a matter of trying to figure it out," Nash said. "We don't want to go out and lose every game and be out of the playoff picture before we figure it out, but it's going to take us some time.''

Like the Jazz with Williams, Phoenix also seems to play better when Nash is distributing. When the two-time MVP has 15 points or fewer, the Suns are 22-7. Nash is averaging 12.0 assists in those contests.

In seven career meetings, Nash is averaging 17.3 points and 11.4 assists, while Williams is averaging 15.2 points and 6.7 assists.

The Suns and Jazz have split two meetings this season, each winning at home. Both Nash and Grant Hill missed the most recent meeting, a 108-86 Utah win on Jan. 10.


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