Double-teams taking Nash out of Suns' offense

Updated: May 15, 2006, 8:23 PM ET
Associated Press

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."


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press