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Nash just wants to win

At age 33, Suns' fabulous point guard is having his best NBA season yet

March 18, 2007|From the Associated Press

PHOENIX — The five-year, $65 million contract Steve Nash signed at age 30 doesn't look like much of a gamble now.

Two MVP seasons later, the Phoenix Suns' ultra-creative playmaker, a month past his 33rd birthday, is having his best year yet and is deadly serious about taking his team to the NBA title on a path that goes directly through his former team in Dallas.

"I want to win, and you only get so many opportunities," Nash said in an interview with the Associated Press. "Who knows what happens after the season? They could change the team. Someone could get hurt. You have to make the most of your opportunities in the present."

In pro basketball, skills and athletic ability often diminish when players reach their 30s. Nash is an extreme exception.

"Usually guys peak in their careers at 27, 28, 29," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "He just continues to play."

He has found no magic fountain of youth.

"I work hard," Nash said. "I work hard at trying to become a better athlete and be able to stay healthy. I spend my summers preparing. It's that simple."

Despite a chronic back problem -- the reason he often lies flat on the floor when out of the game -- Nash's goal is to be in better shape than anyone else on the court.

"He's kept his body to where he's as good physically as he was when he was 20," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said, "but he's a hell of a lot smarter."

As the maestro of the Suns' frenetic, fan-friendly style, Nash is averaging career highs in points (19.2) and assists (11.7) this season. He is on track to become the first player to average at least 18 points and 11 assists since Magic Johnson and Kevin Johnson both did it in 1989-90.

He's shooting 53 percent from the field and 47 percent from three-point range, also career bests.

"I think he still has the passion to get himself ready physically," D'Antoni said. "That's the whole secret. Your mind learns how to play the game, but then your body goes away. God plays tricks on you as you mature."

Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Nash moved to Victoria, British Columbia, as a child because his parents didn't want to raise him in South Africa's apartheid society. In Victoria, Nash played every sport he could, and credits them for his basketball savvy.

"I think playing soccer and hockey, using the whole field or ice or court, using everything upstairs to try to find new ways to make the game easier," he said, "to try to be creative and make the game easier for you and your teammates."

Nash replaced his trademark mop-top hair with a buzz cut last summer, and has allowed it only to grow a bit since then. He has lost nothing, though, from his game.

Nash is a master of the half-court bounce pass, the perfect lob or an assist cleanly through an array of arms and legs in the paint.

He and a now-healthy Amare Stoudemire run a devastating pick-and-roll that rivals anything John Stockton and Karl Malone could muster.

"Any time he throws the ball between somebody's legs, I just laugh," D'Antoni said. "That's unbelievable."

Three years ago, when Nash became a free agent after five seasons with the Mavericks, the Suns loaded a plane with an entourage and flew to Dallas with an offer Nash couldn't refuse. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban decided not to match the long-term deal, and Nash came back to Phoenix, to the team that drafted him out of Santa Clara in 1996.

"This has been the best possible move for me," he said. "If I'd have stayed there, we'd like to think we could have won a championship by now, but on the other hand, I would have never gotten to live in this beautiful city again, play for a great organization, with great teammates, to turn this team around with two, now three, memorable seasons."

As Nash directed the Suns to consecutive Pacific Division titles, his former team proved a formidable foe. Phoenix beat Dallas in the 2005 Western Conference semifinals, then lost to the Mavs in the 2006 semis.

This year, the Suns are chasing the Mavericks for best record in the NBA. Three games before the All-Star game proved Nash's worth -- with Nash out with a shoulder injury, the listless Suns lost all three.

When he returned after the break, Phoenix won 11 of 12, capped by a remarkable 129-127 double-overtime victory in Dallas on Wednesday.

Nash says good friend Dirk Nowitzki of the Mavericks should win the MVP award this year. But this week, Nowitzki missed key shots down the stretch against Phoenix. Nash, meanwhile, scored 10 points in the final minute of regulation, including the game-tying three-pointer, to force overtime.

Nash finished with 33 points, 16 assists and eight rebounds, a performance that went a long way toward earning him a third consecutive MVP honor, something only Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Larry Bird have done.

Off the court, Nash has settled in to family life. In October 2004, his wife gave birth to twins Lola and Bella.

"It's not changed my perspective on the game," he said, "but it gives my life more meaning. Life is more fun."

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