Suns 106, 76ers 95 — J-Rich’s magic number


PHOENIX — We all know there are three types of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.

But that old axiom doesn’t ring true anymore when a statistic becomes a trend, and that’s exactly what you can call the fact that the Suns almost always win when Jason Richardson scores 20-plus points.

J-Rich did it again tonight with a game-high 24 points on 8-for-12 shooting, including 4-for-5 shooting from distance, as the Suns cruised to an easy 106-95 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers for their fourth straight win and 10th in 12 games.

The Suns improved to 18-2 when Richardson hits the 20-point plateau, which has now happened in three straight games for the first time since late November.

“I just know that we try to get him off early and get him 20,” said Suns head coach Alvin Gentry. “I don’t know why it works out that way, but it just seems like when he plays well for us, the record speaks for itself. It’s just a record that is pretty doggone impressive, so when we look up we try to figure out a way to get him 20 points, it seems to make our team go better and play better.”

Added Steve Nash, “Jason Richardson has really played well lately, and it makes us a different team. Our record when he scores is phenomenal.”

The Suns tried to get J-Rich going to start both halves with plays that ended in three-point hits from Richardson. J-Rich hit a pair of threes in the first two minutes to get going right away and what a difference that makes.

The Suns have not lost this calendar year when J-Rich goes for 20, having won nine straight such contests.

“Coach knows when I’m going,” Richardson said. “When he sees me going he definitely tries to give me the ball more and let me go out there and just play basketball. He is looking for me a lot more, so it’s like a third option. You definitely know what Steve is going to do, you definitely know what Amare is going to do, and you throw me in there, it’s pretty deadly.”

J-Rich hit the nail on the head. You pretty much know you’re going to get All-Star performances from Nash and Amare night in and night out, but the rest of the team has been so darn inconsistent.

The bench with Dragic and Dudley could star one night, Frye could hit six three-pointers the next and Grant Hill could play like the old Grant Hill instead of just an old Grant Hill. J-Rich has been as inconsistent of the rest of them with way too many single-digit games for a guy making $14.4 million next year, but when he’s scoring big this is a very difficult offense to stop.

Tonight was largely about that trio on the offensive end, with Amare going for a typical 22 points and then Steve Nash putting up a stellar 20 points and 13 assists on 8-for-9 shooting despite resting the entire fourth quarter.

Nash, of course, stayed home and missed Tuesday’s win in Oklahoma City thanks to a sore back and abdomen, but you wouldn’t have known it when he went out and torched the Sixers for 14 points and five assists in the first quarter alone. Yes, that’s a 56 and 20 pace.

“More than anything I feel like I had some energy and some legs, and that overcomes a lot of the stuff that’s been bothering me,” Nash said. “I still have some work physically to get right.”

Nash didn’t feel great going into the game, but he thinks his fresh legs had a lot to do with his superb performance after being on the go the entire All-Star break and then during the Suns’ busy week after the break.

In Phoenix’s first four games after the break, Nash had averaged 7.5 points on 31.5 percent shooting and 16.7 percent shooting from three. This time around he didn’t miss a shot until clanking his final attempt with 1:10 left in the third after nailing his first eight.

“To have that rest tonight I didn’t feel great physically, but my legs were there, so some of the ailments I was able to overcome because I had a little juice in my step,” Nash said. “That as much as anything helped me. I think it was good for me mentally after a lot of games and a really difficult All-Star break in terms of my time.

“I think it took a lot of foresight and confidence and wisdom for Alvin and Steve Kerr and [head trainer] Aaron [Nelson] to say, ‘Look, let’s sit out a game,’ because the West is not an easy place to start sitting starters down, so it was good.”

The strategy worked perfectly for the Suns this time around. They gutted out a tough win in Oklahoma City in a game that had to grow Dragon’s confidence, and they got back a rested Steve Nash, who obviously needed the day. Whether he gets more days in the future will depend entirely on if he feels he needs one.

“There’s two ways to look at it,” Nash said. “In an ideal world I feel great and play every game the rest of the way, but if that’s not the case it would be great to get another game or two if we can afford it. If we can afford to miss a game or two to help me physically, I’m sure we’ll do it. If I don’t need it, if I feel good, then I’d love to play.”

Even after the Sixers cut a 20-point lead to 13 early in the fourth and then 11 with four minutes left, Gentry bit his tongue and kept Nash on the bench although he physically could have returned. Would he have done that if he had not just seen Dragic pilot the Suns to a late victory Tuesday night?

In all it was a solid home win for the Suns, who moved 1 1/2 games ahead of Oklahoma City for fifth in the West with J-Rich putting up his requisite numbers and Nash looking rested.

“Tonight we did our job and held home court against a team we should beat,” Nash said.

And 1

  • The Suns had the Lakers-Dallas game on in the locker room after their game, and they very much so were scoreboard watching. When a key late play went against the Lakers, Amare was none too pleased with Dallas directly above Phoenix in the standings. March has yet to begin yet the Suns are fully immersed in the West race.
  • It has also been encouraging to me to see Amare’s demeanor since the trade talks. Some could have expected him to sulk, but he’s every bit as engaged in this race as any other Sun. He was celebrating as much as anyone after J-Rich’s shot on Tuesday, and he locked into the scoreboard watching after this one. STAT is 100 percent committed to the 2009-10 Phoenix Suns even if we do not yet know if he’s committed to this organization long term.
  • Andre Iguodala looked great in going for 20 points, six assists and five boards in this one. He swished a number of long jumpers on his 7-for-12 night and reinforced the fact that he’d be a perfect fit with the Suns.
  • With two February games remaining, the Suns have already won more games this month than in either of the previous two. … The Suns are a season-high 13 games over .500 after this four-game win streak, which is the best they’ve been since 2007-08. … Phoenix has won four or more games in a row five times this year after doing it just once all of last year. … The Suns are 3-1 on home second games of a back to back, compared to a 2-8 mark in such road games. … The Suns led from start to finish in this one for the second time all season. … Since Robin Lopez entered the starting lineup, the Suns are 8-1 when Amare scores at least 20 and Fropez 10. … Phoenix is 5-1 since the break, tied for the best mark in the NBA in that time.