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Memphis exposes Suns' need for Nash

PHOENIX (AP) -- Steve Nash was absent again, and so was the
Phoenix Suns' flashy, high-octane game.

The Suns put in another plodding, cold-shooting performance
without the injured Nash, extending their losing streak to five
games with an 88-79 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday
night.

Three reserves led the Grizzlies, who won their fourth in a row
and 10th in 11 games. Bonzi Wells scored 16, Stromile Swift had 14
and Brian Cardinal 13 for Memphis, which set a franchise record
with its fourth straight road win. Jason Williams was the only
Grizzlies starter in double figures with 11 points.

The Suns had season lows in points and field goal shooting (33
percent) for the second game in a row.

"Pretty ugly," Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni said. "The effort
is there. But the layups and easy shots we started missing, I just
think guys started pressing, and we're out of sync."

Memphis coach Mike Fratello knew he caught Phoenix at the right
time.

"You can't be without an All-Star player like Steve Nash, who
is such a vital part of what they do, and expect to play the same
way," Fratello said.

With the loss and San Antonio's victory over the Los Angeles
Clippers, Phoenix (31-9) no longer has the NBA's best record. The
Spurs are 32-9 and play Phoenix on Friday night.

Nash could be back for that game, and his return could not come
too soon.

"That will give us a boost in confidence, and we'll play it
from there," D'Antoni said of Nash's impending return.

Quentin Richardson led Phoenix with 19 points and 13 rebounds,
but shot just 6-of-21. Shawn Marion added 18 on 5-for-16 shooting
and Joe Johnson had 15, going 6-of-20. Amare Stoudemire managed
just eight points on 4-for-11 shooting and went to the free throw
line only twice, missing them both.

"We definitely wanted to make it an ugly game," Cardinal said,
"because we know that was the only way we were going to grind it
out."

Nash, who missed the previous two games with a bruised thigh,
was ready to return early this week, then twisted his back when
Leandro Barbosa stepped on his foot in practice Tuesday.

Despite their awful shooting, the Suns stayed close because the
Grizzlies shot just 37 percent as the Suns constantly double-teamed
Pau Gasol, who scored five points to end his 104-game streak of
double-digit scoring games, the second-longest active run in the
league.

But Battier sank a 3-pointer and two free throws in a 9-0 run
that put Memphis ahead 81-70 with 4:42 remaining. Johnson made a
3-pointer and Stoudemire added a stuff to cut it to 81-76 but the
Suns never got closer.

Wells rebounded his own miss, Gasol hit one of two free throws,
then Cardinal made two from the line with 59.2 seconds left and it
was over.

"We came out and played an excellent defensive game," Wells
said. "I know they were shorthanded with Steve Nash, but the
pressure that was put on them was great. We executed just like
coach Fratello wanted us to do, and it was just a great team
victory."

Phoenix missed at least three open layups in the third quarter,
the last one by newcomer Smush Parker after his steal just before
the buzzer.

"It was real frustrating," Marion said, "because you work so
hard to get a stop, then you miss a layup and they come back and
hit one."

Parker, signed to a 10-day contract on Wednesday after Barbosa
went on the injured list with a sprained left ankle, scored six
points with four assists and two steals but committed six turnovers
in 16 minutes.

Game notes
Phoenix had its 10-game home winning streak snapped. ...
With Johnson moving to starting point guard, Stoudemire moved from
center to power forward and Jake Voskuhl got his first start of the
season. ... The Grizzlies are 10-1 since they lost to the Suns
109-102 in Phoenix on Dec. 23. ... Stoudemire had just four points
and two rebounds in 24 minutes through three quarters.