New-look Suns get first test from Thunder
By MATT BECKER
STATS Senior Writer
As scary as Steve Nash’s recent injury was, the thought of having to play without the seven-time All-Star point guard seems just as frightening for the Phoenix Suns.
Making matters even worse, the Suns also have to find a new go-to scorer.
A day after trading away Jason Richardson and acquiring Vince Carter, Phoenix hopes to have Nash back running the offense Sunday night when it visits an Oklahoma City Thunder team looking to win six straight games for the first time this season.
In a blockbuster trade Saturday, the Suns (12-13) acquired Carter, Mickael Pietrus, Marcin Gortat and a first-round pick in the 2011 draft from Orlando for Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and Earl Clark.
Richardson was averaging a team-high 19.3 points, and Phoenix was 9-4 when he hit the 20-point mark. His output will likely be replaced by Carter, an eight-time All-Star who averaged 15.1 points in 22 games for the Magic.
Of course, Phoenix’s offense will have a different look if Nash is unable to play.
Nash fell on his neck after colliding with Dallas’ Tyson Chandler with 7:17 left in the first quarter in Friday’s 106-91 loss to the Mavericks. The two-time league MVP said he lost feeling in his extremities for a brief time and sat out the rest of the game.
Nash, who started the night averaging 18.1 points and 10.6 assists, finished with four points and one assist.
“I just bumped my head at a weird angle and had a spinal cord situation and lost feeling in my arms and legs,” Nash said. “There was 10 seconds there where it was really scary, but it came back. They just felt like it wasn’t worth risking it.
“I’m optimistic that the amount I’ve improved already, hopefully I’ll improve enough to play Sunday or Monday (at San Antonio).”
The Suns are also optimistic Nash will be good to go, because their offense struggles without him.
Phoenix came into Friday’s game averaging a league-high 109.0 points, but had little chance of reaching that mark facing a strong defensive club and with Nash on the bench. The Suns finished with their second-fewest points and fell to 0-8 when scoring fewer than 100 this season.
If Nash is to miss this game, Phoenix might again run into trouble as the Thunder have held three opponents during their five-game winning streak to fewer than 100 points.
“It feels good, especially when we’re winning the way we are – with defense,” Oklahoma City’s Jeff Green said after Friday’s 102-87 win over Sacramento.
The Suns had their worst offensive performance in a loss to Orlando on Nov. 18, finishing with a season-low 89 points as Nash sat out with a groin strain.
Phoenix has lost both games Nash has missed this season, and is 9-19 without him since he rejoined the franchise in 2004-05. One of those victories, however, came at Oklahoma City (19-8) in February, when Nash was out with a sore lower back.
The Suns dropped the other two games against the Thunder in 2009-10, losing the season series for the first time since 2002-03.
Kevin Durant was the driving force for Oklahoma City against Phoenix last season, averaging 36.3 points in three games. The reigning scoring champion had 24 points Friday against Sacramento, while Russell Westbrook added 21.
The Thunder struggled for much of the game to pull away from the lowly Kings before outscoring them 30-20 in the fourth quarter. Oklahoma City has now held five of its last six opponents to 21 points or fewer in the final quarter.
“That’s where you win games at,” Green said. “We’ve been playing well in the fourth quarter and getting stops, most importantly, and being precise on offense.”
Updated December 19, 2010