Steve Nash was in the building, so it was understandable that a point guard was racking up assists. Except Nash was in a suit, sidelined with a sore groin.
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Jameer Nelson certainly took advantage.
Nelson had 15 points and a season-high 12 assists, and the Orlando Magic easily handled a Phoenix Suns team playing without Nash in a 105-89 win on Thursday night.
"Shoot. I’m a scorer," Nelson said, chuckling at his unusually high assists, one shy of his career high.
At least for one night, he helped others get the points.
Dwight Howard added 20 points and 12 rebounds, Quentin Richardson added 15 points and every starter scored in double digits for the Magic. They built a 32-point lead and blew past the Suns from the opening tip for their third straight victory.
"Everything on that team revolves around Steve Nash, so they didn’t have him tonight and they struggled," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "They’re an up-and-down team that scores a lot of points. And without Steve Nash, it’s hard for them to play at that pace."
The Suns never really had any pace.
Backup point guard Goran Dragic had 10 points, four assists and four rebounds. Grant Hill scored 21 points in the lone bright spot for the Suns, who lost on consecutive nights in Florida by a combined 43 points. They were routed by 27 a night earlier at Miami.
"I wouldn’t exactly call it a vacation," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said.
Gentry said Nash probably could have played but there was no reason to push the injury this early in the season, especially with Phoenix playing its fourth game in five nights. He expects to have Nash back in the starting lineup Saturday at Charlotte.
And could they ever have used him.
The Suns were embarrassed and exposed for the second straight night, and their flaws shined even brighter in Orlando without Nash. They had no flow offensively and played with a slow and stagnant pace that never resembled their usual up-tempo style.
"Trust me. I’ve come to Florida before and lost twice, too," Hill said. "It’s always tough to lose on national television twice. But we’ve got some new guys. We’re still learning each other. It’s a long season."
Undersized and undermanned, Phoenix was forced to double-team Howard, freeing Orlando’s shooters for wide-open looks. Before the first quarter even ended, the Magic made four 3-pointers – two from Vince Carter and one each from Mickael Pietrus and Richardson – to sprint out to a 31-12 lead.
The rest was a formality.
With plenty of lowlights for Phoenix: Dragic tripping over himself and falling to the ground after Nelson’s crossover dribble; Howard roaming the paint at will; and Carter turning back the clock by swooping down the middle and double-pumping the ball in midair for a dunk over everybody.
Orlando added an exclamation point when Carter’s layup just beat the first-half buzzer, putting the Magic ahead 62-34 and bringing the crowd roaring to its feet – and then out.
Almost half the crowd at the Amway Center didn’t return to their seats for the second half. There really was no need. The Magic took a 32-point lead, cleared the bench and coasted the rest of the way.
Notes: Magic backup SG J.J. Redick missed his second straight game with back spasms. There’s no timetable for his return. … Nash was out shooting and doing some light running about 30 minutes before the game. … While Hill was booed throughout the game, teammate Hedo Turkoglu was cheered. Turkoglu, who finished 0-for-8, helped Orlando reach the NBA finals in 2008. Hill was often injured in six seasons with the Magic.