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Nash scores 31 in return, leads Suns past Wolves

PHOENIX (AP) -- Steve Nash keeps building a case for his second
consecutive NBA Most Valuable Player award.

Two nights after Phoenix was routed without him in the lineup,
Nash tied a season high with 31 points and added 11 assists as the
Suns beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 110-102 Saturday night.

"He's pretty good," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said. "I don't
know if you've noticed that."

Phoenix is 2-6 without Nash over the last two seasons, and
114-44 with him.

Nash helped the Suns win despite a big night by Minnesota's
Kevin Garnett, who led the Timberwolves with 28 points and 10
rebounds. But Garnett's numbers didn't improve his mood. He blasted
teammates for clowning in the dressing room after the team's fourth
straight loss.

"I guess frustrating would be the right word here," Garnett
told reporters after snapping at teammates. "I don't like to speak
from a frustrated mind. There's no way -- we're playing one of the
best teams in the league, and you're not hyped, you're not up. The
atmosphere in here is like we won. (It) hurts. I try to keep things
in house. There's a certain tone in here, man, and we're going to
keep that. If you can't abide by that tone, you won't be here. You
won't play.

"I don't sign anyone's checks, but you have to be prepared and
ready to play," Garnett said. "And I don't know that as a team
every night we're ready to do that. The focus is that it's got to
hurt when you lose."

While Garnett stewed, Nash and the Suns celebrated his return to
the lineup. Nash sprained his right ankle Monday night against New
Orleans, but he said he felt no ill effects Saturday night.

"I was lucky," Nash said. "I felt great. I felt pretty
confident before the game, but there was definitely still some
uncertainty. As the game went on, I definitely gained confidence
and didn't feel any problem with it."

Nash was in street clothes when the Suns' 11-game win streak
ended Thursday night in a 117-83 loss to San Antonio, Phoenix's
worst home loss of the year. Backup point guard Leandro Barbosa,
who had a groin injury, also missed the game. Both players returned
Saturday night.

As if to underscore his importance to the Suns, Nash scored
Phoenix's first six points. He scored, drew a foul on Marcus Banks
and made the free throw. Then he hit from the beyond the arc.

The Timberwolves decided to stick with the Suns' shooters and
make Nash beat them off the dribble, which is precisely what he
did.

"They were more or less saying, 'Hey, we're going to stay on
the shooters, and let's see if you can beat our guy,' " D'Antoni
said. "He'll do that. He just reads the situation so well, and he
takes what they give him."

Nash had a hand in 17 of the Suns' 28 first-quarter points.
Phoenix trailed 54-48 at halftime, but Nash scored seven points in
the first 3:29 of the third quarter to help the Suns pull even at
61.

Nash either scored or assisted on 25 of the Suns' 30 points in
the third quarter, when they outscored the Timberwolves 30-22 to
take a 78-76 lead into the final period.

The Timberwolves have seen this before. Nash also burned them
for 31 points here Feb. 6.

"(Nash) is not the quickest guy, but he knows how to play,
knows how to use his body, knows how to find guys," Minnesota
guard Ricky Davis said.

With Nash leading the way, the Suns avoided back-to-back home
losses for the first time since they opened the season with three
straight defeats in U.S. Airways Center.

Game notes
Phoenix forward Amare Stoudemire, who has yet to play after
undergoing offseason knee surgery, could return to the lineup soon,
coach Mike D'Antoni said. Stoudemire has been participating in
5-on-5 drills but has not set a date for his return. "We're just
kind of waiting on him now, to where he feels psychologically ready
to play," D'Antoni said before the game. "I think it's pretty
close."... Forward Brian Grant, who also had knee surgery, is also
close to returning, D'Antoni said. ...The Suns signed guard Andre
Barrett to a second 10-day contract Saturday. He averaged 4.5
points, 1.5 rebounds and 1.0 assists in his first two appearances.
...The Suns announced that president and chief operating officer
Rick Welts will remain in his position through the 2008-09 season.

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