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Nash leads Phoenix down the stretch

PHOENIX (AP) -- Everybody knows Steve Nash can pass. On Friday
night, he reminded the Minnesota Timberwolves that he can shoot,
too.

Nash scored 12 of his 28 points in the last 9 minutes and had
two big assists in the last 90 seconds to lead the Phoenix Suns to
a 107-98 victory that snapped the Timberwolves' five-game winning
streak.

"He's just going to dribble around until he finds somebody or
he finds a space," Minnesota's Trenton Hassell said. "It's hard
when you've got a player who's that good that looks for his pass
but yet he's a threat of scoring, too."

The loss was a serious blow to Minnesota's chances of catching
Denver or Memphis for the final playoff berth in the Western
Conference.

Amare Stoudemire, back after missing two games because of
inflammation in his left ankle, added 22 points and nine rebounds
in the Suns' fourth consecutive victory, boosting their NBA-best
record to 55-17.

Nash had 11 assists, the last two on a 3-pointer by Joe Johnson
as the shot clock expired with 1:50 left and a lob for a fast-break
stuff by Shawn Marion on a three-point play that made it 106-95
with 1:30 to play. Nash made 10-of-15 shots, 4-of-5 in the fourth
quarter.

"It's always a fine line for a playmaker to be aggressive or be
a playmaker," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said. "You can't be
all-playmaker, you can't be all-aggressive. I think he's the best
at straddling that line -- always being a threat and always trying
to find somebody."

Wally Szczerbiak scored 18 points, and Kevin Garnett had 15
points and 15 rebounds for Minnesota, playing its second road game
in two nights. Hassell added 15 points, and Eddie Griffin had 12
points and 15 rebounds.

"We had the pace where we needed it for a while," Timberwolves
coach Kevin McHale said, "then they got it up on us."

All five Phoenix starters hit double figures. Quentin Richardson
scored 18 points, including 5-of-11 3-pointers. Johnson added 15
points. Marion was just 5-for-22 shooting for 14 points but grabbed
16 rebounds.

The ninth-place Timberwolves (38-35) fell three games behind
Denver and Memphis in the Western Conference standings with nine to
play.

With their team finally playing well after an underachieving
season, the Timberwolves weren't conceding things yet.

"We had our chances tonight, man," Sam Cassell said. "If we
continue to get this effort that we're getting, I feel good about
our chances of making the playoffs."

The Suns outscored Minnesota 16-6 over the last 4:24 after
Griffin's 3-pointer gave the Timberwolves a 92-91 lead with 4:44
left.

Phoenix had to weather a 6-minute second-quarter scoring
drought.

"I like to pass the ball, so sometimes I get a little too
pass-oriented," said Nash, the NBA assists leader. "But I
realized on a night like tonight, when we went on a long stretch
where we just couldn't make a shot, that we can't get our heads
down or lose confidence.

"So I felt like I really wanted to just lead by example and
keep being aggressive and being confident in my teammates."

Down 39-25 with 8:55 left in the first half, the Timberwolves
went on a 22-2 run, most of it without Garnett on the floor. With
the Suns misfiring on jump shots, Minnesota caught Phoenix at 41-41
on Griffin's three-point play. Garnett's inside basket with 2:53
capped the outburst and put the Timberwolves ahead 47-41. Minnesota
was up 49-46 at the break.

Phoenix regained the lead 53-51 on Richardson's 3-pointer, and
the Suns used a 5-0 spurt to make it 72-64 after Stoudemire made
one of two free throws with 1:40 left in the third quarter. Griffin
missed two free throws with six-tenths of a second left in the
third, and Phoenix led 74-69 going into the fourth.

The Timberwolves came back again, scoring seven straight points
on Fred Hoiberg's 3-pointer and a pair of baskets by Cassell give
Minnesota an 80-79 lead with 8:57 to play.

Game notes
Garnett was selected the Western Conference player of the
month for March. ... Nash's team-record 13-game string of
double-digit assist games is the longest since Mark Jackson's
14-game streak for Denver in 1996-97. ... Phoenix was 6-of-22 from
the field and scored 16 points in the second quarter. ... The Suns
won the season series 3-1. Minnesota swept Phoenix 4-0 last season.