<
>

Double-teams taking Nash out of Suns' offense

PHOENIX -- Steve Nash insists he's fine, that it's the
Los Angeles Clippers' defensive strategy, not any ailment that's
cutting down his scoring.

"They're double-teaming me, but it's great," Nash said after
the Phoenix Suns' practice Monday. "We're getting lots of open
shots because of it, and my teammates are more than capable of
making them."

Other than Raja Bell's career-high 33 points, though, the Suns
were misfiring all over the court in the Clippers' 114-107 victory
Sunday night that squared the best-of-seven series 2-2. Yet the
Suns were optimistic about their chances if the Clippers go with
the same "stop-Nash" defense in Game 5 of the Western Conference
semifinals on Tuesday night.

"We've seen things we like on tape, and we're going to take
advantage of them," Shawn Marion said. "We had some pretty good
shots, we just couldn't knock them down."

Nash hasn't made a 3-pointer since the series opener, going
0-for-8 since then. He's 6-for-20 shooting overall the last two
games, averaging 10 points per contest, but he had 21 assists as
the Suns pulled off a split in Los Angeles to regain the home-court
advantage in what is now a best-of-three series.

"I think we're just kind of building a wall around him where
he's not getting easy looks," the Clippers' Corey Maggette said.

The 32-year-old Nash acknowledges he hasn't exactly been at his
freshest for the Suns, who have played every other day since Game 2
of the first-round series against the Lakers on April 26. That's 10
games in 19 days.

"I think my legs have just been a little dead the last few
games, but it's not really a big deal," Nash said. "That comes
and goes. They were pretty tired most of the Lakers series, but I
found a way to fight through it, and I'll find a way to get through
it."

Bell said Nash is taking what the Clippers' defense is giving
him.

"I don't think there's anything wrong with him," Bell said.
"I think they've done a good job of double-teaming him, getting
the ball out of his hands, and he's done a good job of setting the
table for some of us to get some offensive looks. If they're
committed to doing that, there's not a whole lot Steve can do.

"When you've got two guys draped all over you, you have to get
rid of the ball."

That's where his teammates come in, and the shots have to fall
for the Suns' version of "small-ball" to be effective. While Bell
made 13-of-20 overall and 7-of-12 3-pointers on Sunday, the rest of
the team was 27-for-68 -- just under 40 percent -- and a horrid
3-for-24 on 3s.

Clippers center Chris Kaman, who dwarfs anyone the Suns can send
against him, said he probably will play Tuesday night after sitting
out Sunday's victory with a strained right shoulder, although coach
Mike Dunleavy said he doubted it.

"To me, it seems more likely Thursday than tomorrow night
unless he's got recuperative powers I don't know about," Dunleavy
said.

If Kaman doesn't go, the Clippers will have the same starting
lineup as Sunday -- Elton Brand, Vladimir Radmanovic and
Cuttino Mobley up front, with Sam Cassell and Maggette in the backcourt.

Tim Thomas again will start as the Suns' best option for
guarding Brand, who is averaging 29.3 points and 10.7 rebounds in
the series, even though he's had to fight through double teams.

Phoenix feels good about having two of a potential final three
best in front of its raucous supporters at US Airways Center.

"We're 2-2, it's best-of-three with two games at home, and we
haven't shot well," Bell said. "I'll take those."

But the Clippers routed the Suns the last time they played in
Phoenix -- 122-97 in Game 2 -- dominating the boards 57-26.

"We played a great Game 1 offensively and lost, we played a
great Game 3 defensively and lost," Brand said. "We hope we can
put those kinds of games together. We've won on their home court,
they've won on our home court. I don't know if they're wearing down
or not."