Raps' hopes Nash-ed

TERRY KOSHAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:45 AM ET

Steve Nash would love to finish his career in Raptors colours, but as long as he is playing for the opposition, he happily will put a dagger into the hearts of his home country's only NBA team.

Forget that Nash, a native of Victoria, B.C., had just nine points in a 117-113 Phoenix Suns victory at the Air Canada Centre yesterday afternoon.

The two-time NBA MVP was at his ball-distributing best, ensuring the Raptors lost their fifth in a row with an 18-assist performance before a sold-out crowd of 19,800. Aside from the fact he thought his team was not mentally in the game as a whole, about the only thing that bothered Nash was that he beat his old national team coach and friend, Jay Triano, in their first head-to-head meeting in the NBA.

"It was a fun afternoon for me," Nash, clutching a can of Molson Canadian when he emerged to speak to reporters, said. "Sad for Jay because I thought he did a great job and they played well. It's such a great day for me to come back here and get a nice ovation. To play against Jay, and all the familiar faces and people means so much to me.

"It's a pleasure to come back here once a year. I wish we could come back every week."

Toronto, with a three-game trip looming that starts today in Atlanta, fell 10 games under .500 but demonstrated a lot of heart with a short bench. Jermaine O'Neal, the subject of trade rumours that would see him go to the Miami Heat for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks, missed the game to rest his sore knee but is probable for today. Jose Calderon (groin) and Jason Kapono (flu) also sat out.

The combination of the injury to Calderon and inadequate play by Will Solomon and Roko Ukic forced the Raptors to start guard Anthony Parker at the point. Parker led the Raptors with 26 points. Joey Graham had a career-high 22.

"The effort was there," Chris Bosh said. "We didn't have two starters, did not have one of our major bench contributors. We played AP at the point, and we did a pretty good job with what we have."

Nash hit five free throws in the decisive minutes as the Raptors tried to get back in the game. Had Parker made a layup in the dying seconds, the outcome might have been different.

But overall, there was no controlling Nash, who was four assists shy of his career-best of 22. He dominated from the point -- nothing new there -- and had a big hand in Amare Stoudemire's game-high 31 points.

"There's a reason why he is a two-time MVP," Triano said. "He controls the game's tempo, and there is no one better."

Nash is expected to become a free agent in 2010, and has been asked about whether he would like to finish his career as a Raptor. Nash, easily Canada's highest-profile basketball ambassador, turns 35 next month and thinks he has three more seasons left after this one.

"If the Suns are playing well and I am part of their plans, (they) probably will be a No. 1 priority for me," said Nash, who was caught by TV cameras apologizing to Triano after the game. "If not, Toronto would be at the top of the list as far as considering other markets. I love what the team has done here, but I love playing in Phoenix."


Videos

Photos