Phoenix takes over best record in NBA

DENVER (AP) -- The Denver Nuggets are pushing for the playoffs.
Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns gave them a not-so-nice taste of
what it might be like if they get there.

Ailing from the flu and playing with a sore hamstring, Nash took
over the game in the last 7 minutes Sunday night, scoring 10 of his
25 points over that span to help Phoenix snap Denver's eight-game
winning streak with a 106-101 victory.

"I thought we did a really good job of being competitive down
the stretch and that's what it takes," Nash said. "We're
talented. We're super-competitive, and we can dig games out like

Nash also had 11 assists -- three key ones down the stretch -- as
the Suns won for the fifth time in six games and took a half-game
lead over San Antonio for the best record in the NBA.

Playing with an injured knee, Kenyon Martin had 21 points for
Denver. Earl Boykins had 20 points, but shot only 6-for-19 from the
floor for the Nuggets, who fell a half-game behind the Lakers for
eighth in the West.

Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony scored only nine points on 2-for-10
shooting, and spent the final minutes on the bench -- not the first
time coach George Karl has chosen to finish a close game that way
since he arrived.

"I'm not saying I'm right or wrong. I'm just saying that's the
way I coached the game," Karl said. "I had my ingredients. I made
my choices."

One of the choices was Wesley Person. The newly acquired shooter
made three 3-pointers as part of a 13-3 run that put the Nuggets
ahead 90-85 with 7:02 left.

That's when Nash started commanding the game, the way he has
often in this, his first season since leaving Dallas and rejoining
his original NBA team, the Suns, as a free agent.

He hit a 3-pointer and a spinning layup to tie it at 90. Minutes
later, he made a sweet, spinning move and saw Shawn Marion (19
points, 15 rebounds) open for an easy score and a 96-92 lead. A few
minutes after that, Nash spotted Quentin Richardson for an open
3-pointer that went for a 102-97 lead with 1:10 left.

Denver drew to 104-101 and Nash finally missed with about 10
seconds left. Denver got the ball to Andre Miller in transition,
but his 3-pointer missed badly and Denver's longest winning streak
since 1987-88 was over.

"It's good to get a win against a team that has been playing
good," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said.

Joe Johnson had 23 points and 11 rebounds for Phoenix, which won
a thriller in Denver in December when Richardson hit a tip-in at
the buzzer for a two-point victory. That was viewed as one of the
best games of the season, and this one wasn't far behind.

Martin waved his hands and got the crowd pumped up after a call
went against Denver early in the fourth, and that triggered the run
that put the Nuggets ahead by five.

The Suns let the emotion get to them. Richardson got called for
a technical with 5:47 left after Phoenix fouled Boykins, who made
two free throws to put Denver ahead 92-90.

Some teams might have folded, but the Suns didn't. They overcame
a little dry spell, then let Nash take over. A few minutes later,
Phoenix walked away a winner and D'Antoni improved to 2-0 this
season against his former team, with two games in Phoenix left.

Nash said he was sick Saturday night and Sunday morning, but the
hamstring that has been bothering him for the last month or so
started feeling better as the day went on.

"I actually had a little freedom to move and that was the best
I've felt physically, other than being sick," he said. "I had
some strength tonight so I feel really positive about that."

The Nuggets are 15-5 since Karl became coach on Jan. 27. They
have climbed back into the thick of the playoff race. This was the
first of a seven-game homestand during which Karl thought the real
push would begin. Despite the ahead-of-schedule improvements, the
coach gave the impression that the wins could be masking problems --
problems that may have led to Anthony's benching.

"I hate our offense. I can't stand how we play," Karl said.
"We've got to change our habits in certain areas. I want us to
play together and not apart, and too many times, we play apart."

Game notes
This was Denver's first loss since Doug Moe returned to the
bench as Karl's assistant. ... Denver center Marcus Camby missed
the game with a hamstring injury. ... Marion's status was a
gametime decision because of a knee injury.