Suns 111, Timberwolves 105
Steve Nash's back was bothering him, so much so that the Phoenix Suns almost had to play without their slick-passing, floppy-haired front man.
With those prime Western Conference playoff seeds still in reach, Nash wasn't going to give in and take a game off - even against the tumbling Minnesota Timberwolves.
Amare Stoudemire had 30 points and 17 rebounds, helping Nash and the Suns hold off Minnesota for a 111-105 victory on Sunday night that matched a franchise record for the Timberwolves with their 16th loss in a row.
``This was an important game. If you lose this game, it could be disastrous. So I just wanted to try and be there for the team,'' said Nash, who had 14 points and 11 assists while guiding the Suns to their season-high seventh straight win.
Kevin Love had 23 points and a career-high 22 rebounds and Al Jefferson put up 19 points and 16 rebounds, leading the Timberwolves (14-60) on a startling second-half comeback from a 25-point deficit in the second quarter.
But when Nash and Stoudemire left the bench with 7 1/2 minutes remaining and their team leading by five, the Suns refocused and dodged an embarrassing defeat to a team they scored 152 points against just 12 days ago. Stoudemire had 10 straight points for Phoenix to stretch the lead to 108-99 on a short jumper with 44 seconds remaining.
``We can't afford to really shut down at all, because no matter what the record is every team can beat you,'' Stoudemire said. ``We have to keep that in mind and really keep that focus and determination for the full 48 minutes.''
Nash was working out earlier in the day when he began to experience back spasms. Coach Alvin Gentry said before the game he wouldn't play Nash unless he was 100 percent healthy, but Nash got his back to feel good enough to move around.
``It was tough. I didn't know what I would be able to provide,'' Nash said. ``I thought I'd just give the best I could and just try to see how it goes.''
The Suns have won 21 of their last 26 games. That includes a 152-114 beating of Minnesota earlier this month, the most points ever allowed by the Wolves in their 21-year existence and the highest score in the NBA this season.
The Wolves, who also lost 16 in a row in both 1994 and 1992 and had a 15-game skid end in November, showed more fight than they have in a long time and came within one point in the fourth quarter. They also held the Suns under 120 points for the first time in four losses this season.
Still, that didn't make them feel good.
``It wears on you,'' said Ramon Sessions, whose layup off a backdoor give-and-go pass from Love brought the Wolves within 93-90 right after Nash and Stoudemire re-entered the game.
Wolves coach Kurt Rambis lamented that his team was lured into playing the Suns' fast pace, and out of their element, in the last meeting. This time, midway through the third quarter, it was almost as if Minnesota's overall lethargy lured Phoenix into a lapse.
The Wolves quietly whittled the lead from 20-plus toward 10 and then came within 81-75 on Wayne Ellington's double-pump, throw-it-up-and-hope layup and three-point play when Stoudemire fouled him hard.
Ellington's jumper cut the lead to 89-88, but the Wolves just couldn't break that barrier during a season that's been burdened by all kinds of them.
The impressive comeback won't buy this team any confidence.
``You definitely need a win,'' Rambis said. ``Everybody's frustrated. I'm frustrated. The coaches are. The players are. The front office is. The fans are.''
Rambis was again trying to figure out how such an inspired third quarter could be preceded by such a lifeless second quarter.
``They have to play that style of scrappy ball,'' he said. ``That's the only way we're going to be able to stay in ballgames.''
The Wolves host Sacramento on Wednesday.
``It's tough man,'' Ellington said, groaning when asked if the players are bothered by the dubious streak. ``Everybody in here likes to win, too.''
Channing Frye had 14 of his 17 points in the first half, and Leandro Barbosa added 16 points for the Suns, who are averaging more than 120 points during this Stoudemire-fueled streak. His scoring average this season has increased with each month, and he's putting up more than 28 points per game in March.
``We got lucky, and Amare rescued us,'' Gentry said: ``I just think he's been really focused.''
NOTES: Nash and Rambis are two of Santa Clara's most famous alums. ... Frye saw more time with C Robin Lopez out for at least two weeks with a back injury.