Overtaking the Phoenix Suns in the Pacific Division won't be easy for the Clippers, especially with Steve Nash still doing his thing.
The All-Star point guard was in top form from start to finish Wednesday night at Staples Center, and that was bad news for the Clippers in the Suns' 112-102 victory.
Nash, last season's most valuable player, orchestrated the performance that ended the Clippers' winning streak at three games, scoring 20 points with a game-high 18 assists.
"He makes it all go for them," Clipper Coach Mike Dunleavy said. "The guy is just a very good player. I think we did everything we could do to play him."
Nash rebounded from an uncharacteristic seven-point, eight-assist effort in Tuesday's 119-90 loss to the Sacramento Kings, helping the Suns take a 19-point halftime lead, then hold off the Clippers, whose reserves sparked a fourth-quarter rally that fell short.
Forward Shawn Marion led the Suns with 30 points and 17 rebounds. Phoenix got 21 points off the bench from Leandro Barbosa and 10 from James Jones.
Point guard Sam Cassell led the Clippers with 27 points. Center Chris Kaman had a strong game with 13 points and 17 rebounds, and power forward Elton Brand had 19 points and seven rebounds.
The perimeter-oriented Suns made the Clippers play their game.
"We have a lot of guys who can shoot the ball, that is how our team is built, we don't really have a post-up player," Nash said. "We have to move the ball, penetrate, kick and create open shots for each other."
Following Nash's lead, the Suns (25-13) did that often Wednesday and are now 3 1/2 games ahead of the Clippers (20-15) in the division.
Nash made a loud statement on the Clippers' court and All-Star forward-center Amare Stoudemire, sidelined all season because of a knee injury, could return soon after the All-Star break.
That's all great news for the Suns, which isn't good for the Clippers.
"We're not ready for prime time right now. We've got a lot of work to do," Dunleavy said. "I thought the way we ended quarters was very inefficient. ... We were just not mentally tough enough at times to make the comeback all the way."
With Nash controlling the tempo, the Suns led, 67-48, at halftime and took their biggest lead of the game in the third, 72-51, on one of Nash's three three-pointers.
"When you've got a guy like Steve Nash, with a lead like that, he's one of the best in those situations," said backup point guard Shaun Livingston, who scored a season-high 16 points. "He's not someone you want to face if you have a choice."
The Clipper bench scored only eight points in Monday's 102-93 victory in overtime over the Utah Jazz. Against the Suns, the reserves contributed 30 points, and the bench was especially productive in the Clippers' final fourth-quarter run.
Rookie forward James Singleton, who scored his eight points in the quarter and had eight rebounds in the game, sparked a 14-4 run that helped the Clippers pull within 100-94 with 7:18 to play.
Cuttino Mobley appeared to score with 6:04 left, which would have pulled the Clippers within four, but he was called for an offensive foul. It was that type of night for Mobley, who was in foul trouble in the first half, and scored only nine points.
On one foul, TV replays seemed to indicate Mobley had only clapped his hands as a Phoenix player drove past him, but the call went against Mobley.
Nash also delivered in the fourth. His three-point play gave the Suns a 103-94 lead with under six minutes to go.
"Shawn and Steve had huge games, and Leandro and James came off the bench and did a great job for us," Phoenix Coach Mike D'Antoni said. "This is one of our better games."