Nash Aware of Scenario to Break Assist Mark

by Jeramie McPeek
VP, Digital
By Jerry Brown,
Nov. 11, 2006

Even in today's NBA, with more and more offenses willing to run and gun with the Suns and scoring numbers on the rise, it would still take a perfect storm – opponent, opportunity and circumstance – for it to happen. Steve Nash has topped the 20-assist mark three times in the past 374 days, the latest Thursday when he settled for 21 in a 109-90 rout of Cleveland.

But is there a scenario where he could go where only one man in NBA history has gone before? Could Nash reach 30 assists in a game?

Only one man knows that feeling.

Ex-Suns coach Scott Skiles, now the coach of the Chicago Bulls, never played in an NBA All-Star Game and averaged 6.5 assists a game during his career. But on Dec. 30, 1990, Skiles set an NBA record by handing out 30 assists to his Orlando Magic teammates – a feat never duplicated before or since.

Nash knows the magic number well, but doesn't think he's within striking distance.

"It's one of those things where all the stars would have to be aligned," he said. "It's such an amazing record, one that I really don't think you can top. For it to happen, all the bounces would have to go my way."

Skiles is proof of that. He set the record in a 155-116 win against Paul Westhead's defenseless Denver Nuggets, a team that shot at will and almost totally dismissed the concept of defense.

They allowed 130.8 points per game, once yielding 107 to Phoenix in one half alone (the Suns ended with a team-record 173). Those Nuggets would call today's "seven-seconds-to-shoot" Suns a bunch of procrastinators.

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That night, the Nuggets kept shooting and the Magic kept running, Skiles scored 22 points and got his record-tying 29th assist with seven minutes left. But it took until the final seconds to set up one last Jerry Reynolds jumper for No. 30.

Westhead now coaches the Phoenix Mercury. But Denver still likes to run, as do Golden State, Seattle, Washington and now, even revamped Memphis.

But there are hurdles to a shot at history. When Nash piles up the assists, the Suns score in bunches and usually race to big leads. That affords coach Mike D'Antoni a chance to rest his two-time MVP before the record books become a consideration.

And if the game is close, Nash – who is hitting 51 percent of his 3-pointers this season and is the team's best clutch shooter – is likely to take matters into his own hands.

Against Cleveland, Nash scored just four points but totally controlled the game. He had 14 assists at the half – matching Skiles' pace – and six in the third quarter before playing 2:28 of the fourth with the Suns up by 32 points.

In 1990, Orlando coach Matt Goukas, desperate for positives to sell a 31-51 team, kept Skiles on the floor for 44 minutes and told him to go for the record (then held by New Jersey's Kevin Porter at 29) as the public address announcer kept the home crowd up to date on the countdown.

Amazingly, Nash had just one turnover against the Cavaliers while dishing every which way.

He said that, as with his shot, he sometimes gets in a passing "zone" where the game just opens up and he goes on auto pilot.

"It just becomes subconscious," he said. "You make the right plays automatically.

"You not only make the right decision, but the ball seems connected to you."

When the NBA went to a slow-down game, Skiles' record seemed as unlikely to be broken as Wilt Chamberlain's mark of 100 points in a game. But an evolution is under way and, after Kobe Bryant scored 81 points last year, the marks don't seem so unreachable.

Skiles, who coached Nash for his rookie season in Phoenix, has said there is one player who has the best chance at the assist record.

And he is an unabashed Steve Nash fan.

"I don't mean to shortchange anybody else, but he's the best basketball player on the face of the Earth in my opinion," Skiles said when the Suns passed through Chicago recently.

"I don't think it's even close."

COPYRIGHT 2007, EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE. Used with permission.