Nash still sparkling for Suns

MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:38 AM ET

INDIANAPOLIS -- Calm, cool and collected, Steve Nash just goes about his business when times get rough.

With that approach, Nash has been leading his Phoenix Suns out of trouble spots all season, just like he did in advance of his Canadian homecoming tonight.

In a week where the Suns star point guard was held scoreless in a game for the first time since 2003 and co-star Amare Stoudemire went down after a premature return from knee surgery, the Canadian responded with a typical strong outing as Phoenix beat the Indiana Pacers 114-104 last night.

Reeling after two consecutive losses by a franchise-record combined 60 points to open a five-game Eastern swing, Nash comes home as a candidate to repeat as NBA MVP and with a team exceeding all expectations, in the face of adversity.

The Victoria-raised star, whose team makes its annual visit to the Air Canada Centre for a game against the Raptors tonight, was the last Sun off the floor after morning shootaround here yesterday and then delivered a near triple-double (15 points, 13 assists, eight rebounds).

"We're not panicking at all," Nash said. "It's a long season and we've been undermanned a lot. There (are) a lot of tired legs and bodies and minds."

The reality is the high-flying Suns, superb offensively but not-so-great defensively, have little to play for these days. The Suns, who have gone 5-6 since an 11-game winning streak was snapped earlier this month, are 6 1/2 games up on the Los Angeles Clippers for the lead in the Pacific Division and the likely second seed in the Western Conference playoffs.

Not bad for a team that had Stoudemire go out -- possibly for the season -- after playing his first three games of the season this week. What's more, solid post presence Kurt Thomas also is out with foot problems and starting guard Raja Bell hurt his left ankle last night.

"Obviously, it would be nice in a playoff series to have a big guy (Stoudemire) at his best," Nash said. "He's one of the best around. But we've done extremely well without him. We're a confident group that we can surprise some people. We've beaten a lot of good teams this year and we've had a fairly good season considering all the setbacks we've had."

The doubters were out in full force after the Suns started the season 4-5. But a win over the Raptors Nov. 22 put the Suns back to .500 and they been above that mark since then. Nash is putting up career-best numbers in several categories, including scoring and field-goal percentage.

"That guy's unbelievable, he's ridiculous," Suns general manager/coach Mike D'Antoni said of Nash.

"He had one of the unbelievable seasons of anybody's career last year and he's doing it again."

Tonight, of course, is more than just another game for Nash. Before the game, he'll receive the Lionel Conacher Award as the top male athlete in Canada in 2005.

"You've got your buddies, you've got the media requests, you've got all the business and charitable requests," Nash said. "To kind of manage all those things in 24 hours or less ... it is difficult, but it's great. I feel lucky I get to go up there and play and see everybody."


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