1. Valley Of The Stun: Nash Returns With Loss
PHOENIX -- No truly spine-tingling ovations. No fancy passes to hush a building he packed like the old days. No baskets, one shot and one measly assist in the fourth quarter for Steve Nash in his homecoming game, meaning it was the furthest thing from a pre-birthday bash before Nash turns 39 next week.
His ballyhooed return to the desert actually ended with the home team's much-maligned Michael Beasley, not Nash, palming the game ball in his big left hand.
That would be Beasley palming it, after his season-high 27 points off the bench, while conducting the triumphant postgame interview on ESPN.
"We kicked it," Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said.
Kicked it and bricked it in a fourth quarter of stagnant offense and 4-for-21 shooting that had D'Antoni -- whose presence was supposed to add to the nostalgia on what we all presumed to be Nash's night -- hoping that the 13-point blown lead in this humbling 92-86 defeat to what's left of the Phoenix Suns is all that L.A. lost here.
This was also supposed to be the cushy opener of a seven-game, make-or-break road trip for Nash & Co. after three home wins that had seemingly launched their season at last. Yet it should be clear by now, after all the struggles and backward steps we've seen from a group that'll be lugging an eight-game road losing streak into Minnesota on Friday night, that little with this starry constellation of Lakers turns out as we all imagine it will.
Kobe Bryant fell one assist shy of his fourth straight game with a double-digit dime total as the Lakers' new QB, but the enduring images of the evening were Dwight Howard glumly parked at his locker afterward with yet another ice pack strapped to his reinjured right shoulder and Nash factoring so little in the offense down the stretch in an arena that, in his words, housed "the best years of my life."
These certainly aren't the Suns anymore -- not the Nash-and-D'Antoni Suns so fondly remembered by the locals -- but this Nash isn't theirs, either. Not when he doesn't have the ball late in the game and totals a modest 11 points and 2 assists in 33 minutes. Not when he's operating as a spot-up shooter who gets only eight shots and records his eighth straight game with fewer than 10 assists for the first time since 2003-04. Not when he's operating as an off-the-ball shooter who gets only eight shots. Not when most of the clean looks are falling to a 6-for-17 Metta World Peace because the Suns were so determined not to leave their former heart and soul uncovered.
"I was a little bit afraid before the game," said former Nash protege Goran Dragic , giving a glimpse into the Suns' intent to keep the visiting No. 10 shadowed to lure Bryant into repeatedly feeding MWP in the corners."
Added Nash, referring to L.A.'s ongoing search for offensive balance and acknowledging how unfamiliar it felt to log eight fourth-quarter minutes and still feel like such a spectator: "Those are things we've still got to work out."
Despite plenty of pregame confidence from Bryant and D'Antoni that Nash would get nothing but a love shower in the desert, it certainly wasn't the warmest reception. A smattering of boos was clearly audible during pregame introductions, with a first-quarter video tribute of glory-days highlights eventually lifting fans out of their seats to stand and salute the former No. 13 and drown out the boos.
Nash could deal with all that, though. He knows it's hard for some Suns diehards to accept the new team he chose -- even if it was largely for family reasons -- and calmly shook off the errant corner 3-pointer in the first half that somehow hit the side of the backboard, too. Yet he couldn't escape the fact that a fall-from-ahead loss to the worst Suns team since Nash's rookie season in 1996-97, coupled with the fresh injury concerns surrounding Howard, threatens to plunge the 20-26 Lakers straight back into crisis.
After spending the day with his children and hugging both father John and young son Matteo near the Lakers' bench just before the opening tip, Nash wasn't expecting another 18-assist eruption like he generated against the Dallas Mavericks back in 2004-05 when he and D'Antoni went to Big D together for the first time after Nash left the Mavs in free agency. All he wanted was a win to keep the Lakers' momentum building.
After the Lakers blew a 78-65 lead with 10 minutes to go and managed just 13 points in the final period, they might need another reboot. After L.A. surrendered 19 of the game's final 27 points once Howard went to the bench with 6:56 to go, you started to wonder how many more times these guys can proclaim that the season starts over tonight.
Seven Seasons Or Less. That might prove to be the most apt title for the book that sums up this nightmare if the Lakers, as it appears yet again, keep having to hit refresh because they so readily fold unless everything is flowing perfectly.
"He was the face of the franchise for so long," Suns swingman Jared Dudley said. "Even though they might not have won a championship, he got 'em so far. He's gotta go down as one of the best Suns if not the best Sun.
"I won't say I'm sad they're not doing super well, but I always want to see Steve Nash do well. I owe him a lot. It might set [the Suns] up better for the future to have picks and cap space and all that stuff [after signing-and-trading Nash to L.A.], but I would have loved to play another year with him."
On his way out of the US Airways Center, which hadn't been this loud or alive all season, Nash could only concede: "Tonight was a big setback."
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Recap | Box score
Most valuable player: On the night of Steve Nash's return to Phoenix, Suns forward Michael Beasley looked like it was himself back in his old purple. The former Kansas State Wildcat dropped 27 points, including the go-ahead jumper with less than a minute to play.
Defining moment: With the score tied and 43 seconds left in the game, Beasley's go-ahead scoop shot was followed by Kobe Bryant's layup trickling off the rim on an off-balanced attempt.
That was heartfelt: Phoenix played a highlight reel of Steve Nash to the song "Coming Home" in the point guard's first return to the Valley of the Sun.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Danilo Gallinari. He began the game giving Chandler Parsons (an above-average on-ball defender) major trouble, then spearheaded a huge Nuggets run in the fourth quarter with several key 3-pointers, finishing with a game-high 27 points in only 34 minutes of action.
That was commanding: In the second quarter, Omer Asik swatted a Ty Lawson layup attempt so hard against the backboard that it led to an immediate 2-on-1 fast break for Houston the other way. The scorekeeper didn't give him an assist, but Asik certainly deserved one.
X factor: Late in the third quarter, Rockets coach Kevin McHale subbed Carlos Delfino in for Asik in an attempt to match up with Denver's versatile small-ball strategy. The move backfired, as the Nuggets went on a 17-0 run, turning a close game into somewhat of a route.
Recap | Box score
MVP: It's becoming commonplace, but Tony Parker again was the MVP of a Spurs game. Parker went stretches in which he didn't seem engaged, but then would turn it on and remind everyone that he was the best player on the floor. Parker finished with 22 points on 9-of-10 shooting and seven assists.
Least valuable player: Bismack Biyombo played almost 29 minutes for the Bobcats and registered just 1 point, 3 rebounds and 2 blocked shots. Somehow, he managed to turn the ball over two times.
That was a terribly ugly game: The Spurs and Bobcats combined to turn the ball over 47 times and Charlotte didn't shoot better than 42 percent from the floor. There was absolutely no flow to the game, and we should all be relieved it's over.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Paul Pierce. Even though all the starters played well, Pierce stood head and shoulders above the rest with his activity on the glass. The Celtics' captain also hit two fourth-quarter elbow jumpers to keep the Kings from getting close.
LVP: DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins finished the game with 13 points, 6 rebounds, 5 turnovers and 10 scowls at the officials; not the double-double he's used to earning. Despite having two impressive finishes, Cousins was really bothered by the Celtics' frontcourt, converting only 2 of 6 shots in the paint.
X factor: After being down by two to start the second quarter, the Celtics outscored the Kings 37-14 to take a 59-38 lead at half. The Celtics made an otherworldly 14 straight buckets without a miss before Avery Bradley's missed layup with 2:29 to go in the half.
Recap | Box score
Defining moment: Blake Griffin hadn't taken a single shot in a quiet fourth quarter, but he picked the right time to break his silence. Griffin's twisting bank shot might have been incredibly lucky, but it was a dagger nonetheless.
MVP: DeAndre Jordan. For the first time in a long time, Jordan was allowed to stay on the floor to close out a game. Jordan's offensive rebounds and basket protection late created the extra chances the Clippers needed to win it.
Well that was not ideal: The Clippers have developed an over-reliance on Jamal Crawford without Chris Paul, and a persistent Wolves team likely would have made them pay if they had shot better than 26 percent from behind the arc.
Recap | Box score
MVP: The Bulls' bench provided much-needed scoring when the starters weren't knocking down shots. Nate Robinson scored 24 points, nearly outscoring the entire Bucks bench by himself (25 points). Jimmy Butler had another solid game, tallying 18 points and 6 boards.
X factor: Chicago dominated in the paint, finishing with 66 points in close compared to Milwaukee's 40. A big part of that was Taj Gibson, as the Bulls made an effort to take advantage of Ersan Ilyasova in the post.
Defining moment: Nate Robinson's second quarter. He recorded 16 points (7-of-9 from the field), 2 assists, 3 steals and also his first dunk of the season (as well as an ill-advised "heat check"). Robinson led the Bulls to an 18-point halftime lead, which put Chicago on its way to victory.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Miami's reigning MVP lived up to the title. LeBron James poured in a 24-9-7 line in just 34 minutes. LeBron came out a man possessed after a disappointing second frame and fueled Miami's back-breaking run.
LVP: His numbers weren't terrible overall, but Joe Johnson ruined Brooklyn's momentum in the decisive third. During Miami's 20-2 run, Johnson forced three missed shots, two turnovers and scores of blown rotations. Not a banner night.
Defining moment: With three seconds left in the third quarter, Udonis Haslem missed. Brooklyn looked to have an easy rebound, but the ball bounced straight to Ray Allen ... open from 3. Swish. Perfectly calamitous ending to a disastrous third.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Tyson Chandler overwhelmed Orlando's front line, hitting on 10 of his 11 shots, converting a flurry of heretofore-unseen baby hooks early and a passel of rim-rocking dunks late. He even netted his first five-assist game since November 2007.
LVP: Opposing point guards have positively eviscerated the Knicks of late and tonight was no exception, as Jameer Nelson deconstructed and discombobulated the Knicks' D. Somewhere, Chris Paul is eyeing the next game versus New York with giddy anticipation.
X factor: The entire Knicks bench keyed a late-third-/early fourth-quarter spurt that pushed the lead to double digits, but Amar'e Stoudemire was unstoppable down low, going 7-for-7 and displaying a reasonable facsimile of the athletic, dominant presence from seasons past.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Jrue Holiday. In a sequence that both padded the Philadelphia lead and crystalized the East point guard hierarchy, Holiday froze John Wall midway through the fourth quarter, then drove past him and finished with his left hand. Despite an off night from the floor, the All-Star finished with 21 points, including Philadelphia's final seven.
X factor: In a game in which his team handed the ball to the opposition at an alarming rate, Emeka Okafor did his darndest to get it back for them. The veteran pulled down 17 rebounds, four on the offensive end, and scored 15 points and blocked a pair of shots in defeat.
That was ugly: After a promising initial period, the Wizards imploded in the second. Under duress, Washington shot just 3-of-16, turned it over seven times and was outscored 23-11 in the quarter. The Wizards weren't much better the rest of the way either, committing 19 turnovers, many of the unforced/unconscionable variety.
3. Wednesday's Best
Michael Beasley, Suns: For a night, he was Can't Miss Beasley, playing like a guy taken No. 2 in the 2008 draft. He scored a season-high 27 points and helped the Suns rally from 13 down in the fourth quarter to beat the Lakers, 92-86. Beas also had five steals.
4. Wednesday's Worst
Lakers' finishing touch: When Dwight Howard exited the game with 6:56 left in the fourth quarter after reinjuring his shoulder, so did the Lakers' hopes of clamping down on defense against Phoenix. With Kobe not finding the range late, it was time to bid adieu to a three-game win streak.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"Well, you know, 'all for one' didn't last [very] long, did it? Forty-eight-hour shelf life. That's not bad. We'll take what we can get."
-- Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni, on Pau Gasol's gripes about a recent fourth-quarter benching.
8. Melo Milestone
9. Stat Check
Credit Al Horford for the Hawks' 93-92 triumph against the Raptors. Horford made what proved to be the game-winning field goal on a dunk with 21 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, and he preserved the lead by blocking two potential go-ahead field goal attempts in the final 13 seconds of the game (rejecting shots by Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan). Horford was the first NBA player to block two shots during the final 15 seconds of a one-point victory for his team since Detroit's Ben Wallace did in a 90-89 overtime win at Toronto exactly nine years earlier (Jan. 30, 2004).
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10. Dunk Of The Night
Most valuable player: Paul Millsap. The Jazz shook off Monday's humiliating loss against Houston, led primarily by Millsap's efficient and relentless scoring. Millsap made 11 of 16 free throws and went 7-for-12 from the field on his way to 25 points.
X factor: After New Orleans had taken an early 10-point lead, Derrick Favors came off the bench for the Jazz and almost single-handedly pulled Utah back into the game with nine second-quarter points.
Least valuable player: Greivis Vasquez -- sort of. Although he did have 13 assists, Vasquez shot a dreadful 8-for-21 from the floor, including 0-for-4 from 3, four turnovers and some suspect perimeter defense.
MVP:The Pacers' starting five, which saw each starter notch double figures for scoring in beating the Pistons. Roy Hibbert and Lance Stephenson had 11 rebounds apiece, permitting the bench plenty of mop-up duty in the blowout.
X factor: The Andre Drummond Watch is usually rewarding. The 19-year-old Pistons rookie had 14 rebounds and 3 blocks in 24 minutes of action.
That was awkward: Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye found out just before tipoff that they had been traded. And thus ended a good decade-plus as a Piston for Prince, the last link to Deee-troit Basketball's 2004 title.
MVP: Al Horford had a great all-around night with 22 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 blocks, including a key rejection on Kyle Lowry late in the fourth quarter.
LVP: After a solid streak of games, Amir Johnson finally regressed to the mean. He was 3-for-12 from the field in this one and missed all three of his attempts at the line.
Defining moment: Jose Calderon and Ed Davis were traded just about an hour before the game started, leaving the Raptors with just nine healthy bodies in this one. Toronto gave its best effort, but in the end Josh Smith and Al Horford were just too much.
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