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By Andy Roth, Contributing Editor - Archive - Email
The Pulse of the NBA
New York, NY (Sports Network) - This season's oldest All-Star, who was one of six point guards selected to the game, may not be as flashy or athletic or as quick as the other five - Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo and Tony Parker - but I still think he's the best passing point guard in the game and the most skilled at making his teammates better.

I'm talking about the ageless wonder who goes by the name of Steve Nash. I think the 38-year-old floor general, who is in his 16th season, is one of the best stories in the league this season, yet he hasn't received enough attention.

With Nash running the show, the Phoenix Suns are miraculously in the hunt for a Western Conference playoff berth. With Sunday's rout of the Cavaliers in Cleveland, Phoenix improved to 25-24 and are just one game back of the Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets and Houston Rockets for the final playoff spot. Their 11-4 record since the All-Star break is second only to the Chicago Bulls' 13-2 mark.

When you compare the Suns' roster to some of the high-profile teams in the league that are contending for playoff spots, it's amazing there isn't much of a disparity in their records.

The defending champion Dallas Mavericks, with the likes of Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion, are just 2 1/2 games better than Phoenix with their 28-22 record.

The Boston Celtics have Rondo, fellow All-Star Paul Pierce, along with Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, yet they're 26-22 record is only 1 1/2 games better than the Suns' mark.

The New York Knicks sport a front line of Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, while the Suns have Marcin Gortat, Grant Hill and Channing Frye up front. If you're choosing sides for a pickup game on the playground, I think most people would go with New York's frontcourt, but the Suns are one game up on the Knicks, who are 24-25.

It's no surprise that several of Phoenix's players are having their best season with Nash at the helm.

Gortat, the center who was acquired from the Orlando Magic last year, is averaging a career-high 16 points and 9.9 rebounds per game, while shooting 56 percent from the field, which ranks him fifth in the league.

It didn't take Gortat long after being dealt to the Suns to realize how great Nash was and what kind of impact he would have on his game. Following a then- career-high 25-point game last season against the New Orleans Hornets, Gortat had some high praise for his new teammate.

"Rajon Rondo is a great point guard, but he isn't better than Steve," Gortat said. "As many passes as he gave me today, I think I had so many passes the entire season a couple years ago. It's just a great feeling to play with him. I think we're doing a tremendous job right now together."

Like Gortat, Jared Dudley also is benefiting greatly from Nash's tremendous passing skills. The sixth-year shooting guard is putting up career highs in points (13 ppg) and field goal percentage (49 percent), and has been a big key in the team's run at the playoffs.

The Suns are 11-4 this month, and by no coincidence March has been Dudley's most productive of the season. He's averaging 15.7 points and 6.3 rebounds, while shooting 51 percent from the field.

As for Nash, he leads the league in assists at 11.2 per game and his 54.3- percent field goal percentage ranks him seventh in the NBA and first among non-centers. But, of course, the big number that reflects his impact is in the win column, and that's why I think this brilliant point guard deserves some MVP consideration.

CLIPPERS NEED TO GET BACK ON TRACK

While the Suns are trying to climb their way into the playoff picture, "Lob City" is turning into "Losing City" in Los Angeles for the Clippers.

After getting off to a 19-9 start and holding down first place in the Pacific Division for a good part of the season, the Clippers have stumbled so badly that they're no longer a lock to make the playoffs.

Reports continue to circulate that head coach Vinny Del Negro's job is on the line with the team having lost 12 of its last 20 games. And even a win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday that snapped a three-game losing streak didn't make him feel particularly secure.

We'll see," said Del Negro following the victory. "We need to win. We need to play better. But I don't worry a lot about it, because there are things out of my control."

One of the things that also isn't in Del Negro's control, but has been a big factor in the Clippers' slide, was the loss of Chauncey Billups (15 ppg, 4 apg) to a season-ending knee injury. The "Clips" were 15-7 prior to losing Billups and his valuable production and leadership, and have gone 12-14 since then.

Paul, in particular, has struggled since Billups went down. The five-time All-Star is shooting just 42.6 percent in the 14 losses since Billups was sidelined. During this stretch, Los Angeles lost a number of games to some of the league's weakest teams, including two defeats at the hands of the Golden State Warriors and losses to the New Jersey Nets and Charlotte Hornets.

The Clippers' best chance to right the ship could be this week with four straight home games as they host the Hornets, Suns, Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz.

If they falter during this stretch, Del Negro may very well find himself on the unemployment line.

Copyright 2012

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