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Nash helps Suns defeat Kings with 20 assists

PHOENIX (AP) -- The assists piled up, and Steve Nash lost track.

"I knew I had a bunch," he said.

Nash finished with an NBA season-high 20 assists and the Phoenix Suns beat the Sacramento Kings 127-102 Tuesday night for their
seventh straight victory.

Leandro Barbosa scored 26 points and Nash came within two
assists of a career high, set in the Suns' 140-133 loss to the New
York Knicks on Jan. 2. That also was the last time an NBA player
had 20-plus assists in a game, according to the Elias Sports
Bureau.

Nash's teammates helped out by shooting 49.5 percent from the
floor.

"We were playing Suns basketball and Steve was making some
great passes," said Shawn Marion, who hit his first seven shots
and finished with 23 points.

After opening the season 1-5, the Suns have won nine of 10 games
and pulled within 1½ games of the Los Angeles Lakers in the Pacific
Division.

"Guys are sharing the ball and it looks good," Phoenix coach
Mike D'Antoni said.

No one passes it better than Nash, who leads the NBA with 11.4
assists per game. It wasn't a perfect game for him: He drew a rare
technical foul and had three turnovers in 33 minutes. But it was
the sort of game that leaves his teammates shaking their heads.

Nash also scored 11 points, hitting 3-of-4 from beyond the
3-point arc.

"He's the motor that makes this whole thing go," guard Raja
Bell said.

Nash has led the league in assists the past two seasons, earning
MVP honors both times.

Phoenix product Mike Bibby scored 21 for the Kings, who have
lost four straight games, their longest skid since they acquired
Ron Artest from Indiana on Jan. 26, 2006. Artest was inactive with
a sore lower back.

"We have to look and see what's wrong, what we need to do,"
Kings forward Corliss Williamson said.
The Suns had not played since Friday, while the Kings were
playing their fourth game in five days. And it showed in the second
half.

"They came out with a lot of intensity and energy, and they
were off three or four days, so we knew they were going to come out
(strong) and we were trying to match them but we couldn't," Kings
forward Kevin Martin said.

Leading 62-51 at halftime, the Suns wasted little time putting
the weary Kings away. They scored the first six points of the third
quarter and later went on 10-2 run to take a 97-77 lead after three
quarters.

The Suns led 18-9 midway through the first quarter when official
Violet Palmer called Nash for a foul on John Salmons, who made the
basket. Nash made a pleading gesture and Palmer immediately gave
him a technical foul. When D'Antoni screamed in protest, Palmer hit
him with a technical too.

By the time the Kings finished shooting free throws, they had
whittled the deficit to 18-14.

But the technicals only fired up the Suns, who outscored
Sacramento 23-15 to end the first quarter with a 41-29 lead.

"They came out of the gates with 41 points," Sacramento coach
Eric Musselman said. "A priority was to try to stop them in
transition in the first quarter, and obviously we didn't do that."

The Suns shot 69.2 percent from the floor in the first quarter,
with Marion going 7-for-7. The Suns cooled off in the second
quarter but still shot 55.6 percent in the first half, with much of
the offense being generated by Nash, who had 12 assists and one
turnover at intermission.

"Phenomenal game by Nash," Musselman said. "For a player to
take only eight field goals and to dominate a game with 20 assists
is phenomenal. It shows you what a great player he is."

Game notes
Artest has missed three straight games with a sore back.
... Nash's 20 assists tied for fourth-most in franchise history.
... The Suns leave Wednesday for a five-game, seven-day road trip
to New Jersey, Boston, Charlotte, Orlando and Miami. Those five
clubs had a combined .452 winning percentage going into Tuesday.
... The Suns are 67-22 all-time against the Kings in Phoenix.