Canuck shines bright

KEN WIEBE -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 6:10 PM ET

CLEVELAND -- Recognizing how good Steve Nash was in a Dallas Mavericks uniform was one thing, but Mike D'Antoni has a new appreciation of the premier point guard now that he sees him on a daily basis.

When the Phoenix Suns made Nash the offer "he couldn't refuse" this past July, the 6-foot-3 guard from Victoria, B.C. was expected to make an immediate impact with his new club.

But not many experts predicted Nash would help the Suns get off to one of the best starts in franchise history (4-1) and propel them near the top of the Western Conference standings.

The transition has been seamless for Nash, who is thrilled to be back with the team that drafted him 15th overall in 1996 out of Santa Clara.

"It's a young, athletic team and it's exciting to play with all these guys," said Nash, who had 15 points and a season-high 17 assists in 50 minutes during last night's 114-109 overtime loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers last night at Gund Arena. "We've got a lot of work to do but I like this group, it's a fun group."

Nash, 30, pushes the ball up court with mind-numbing speed and passes with precision, creating numerous open looks for the likes of Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion, Quentin Richardson, Joe Johnson and the rest of the Suns.

ALL-AROUND THREAT

When Suns shooters go cold, Nash slows things down. When it's time to push the tempo, he dashes down the court and takes the ball to the basket. And when the situation calls for it, Nash can put up points and make critical shots.

Aside from being an all-around threat, he's constantly patting teammates on the back and offering encouragement. At one point last night, his biggest assist might have been preventing Suns forward Amare Stoudemire from taking a technical foul after fouling out late in the fourth quarter.

"It's inevitable and it's pretty natural, given that I played on a good team and have a lot of playoff games," said Nash, when asked about becoming the leader of a new team. "It's a position I'm comfortable with."

What is hard to believe is that Nash is now one of the elder statesmen.

"It goes by fast and there's always younger and younger guys coming into the league," said Nash, who recently became a father when his partner Alejandra Amarilla gave birth to twin girls. "It's perfect timing to start anew. A new family, a new team to assume a new responsibility on the (court) and at home. Obviously, you're not No. 1 anymore. Your children are the most important thing in the world to you. And it makes it a lot more fun, too."

D'Antoni, the head coach of the Suns, struggles to find words to describe the impact Nash is having on the team thus far.

"I don't think you can measure it, it's immeasurable," said D'Antoni, who took over as head coach 11 months ago when Frank Johnson was fired. "Whatever we're paying him, it's not enough. I don't know how else I can say it.

"When you see him every day, you start to appreciate all the things he does for the team. His influence on the floor, off the floor. Just how sharp his passes are, how good a leader he is and how his personality really brings out how much guys enjoy playing with him. Those are things you don't see from afar."


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