Nash helps Suns beat Bobcats before getting hurt

PHOENIX -- All the focus was on the return to Phoenix of Raja Bell and Boris Diaw. Instead, Steve Nash, Shaquille O'Neal, Jason Richardson and their teammates spoiled the party.

Nash scored 22 points before leaving with an ankle injury, O'Neal and Richardson each had 20, and the Suns beat the Charlotte Bobcats 112-102 Tuesday night, spoiling the return of Diaw and Bell to US Airways Center.

This was the first time Diaw and Bell had played in Phoenix since being traded to Charlotte two months ago. They combined to almost upset the Suns.

Diaw finished with a season-high 27 points, along with nine rebounds and six assists. Bell scored 23 with three rebounds and three assists.

The Suns, however, had more balanced scoring. Leandro Barbosa added 17 points and Matt Barnes 14.

Richardson was the key player for the Suns in the five-player trade with Charlotte in December. And he was they key against them this time.

"The guy we got for them made some big shots for us," Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry said. Gentry disclosed that Richardson had injured his right ankle during the game.

"It was when I was going up for a shot," Richardson said, while keeping a large icebag on his ailing ankle. "Somebody landed on my foot.

"But I will take the pain for the win."

Phoenix got a big scare when Nash made a 3-pointer with 4:07 remaining in the third. He hobbled off the court with what appeared to be an ailing right ankle. However, he returned early in the fourth period and quickly hit a 3. Nash played only two more minutes, then came out again.

Nash said his ankle was "swollen and sore. We'll have to reassess it in the morning. I don't think it will be a long-term thing."

Raymond Felton had 14 points and Gerald Wallace 13 for Charlotte.

The loss was the Bobcats' seventh in a row away from home. They now have dropped nine of 10 against the Suns in their all-time series.

Bell got the Bobcats off to a quick start, hitting his first four field goal attempts, as Charlotte built a 20-15 lead midway through the first period. The Suns then went on a 26-9 run bridging the first and second quarters and assumed a 41-29 lead early in the second.

They increased it to 51-37 with a barrage of 3-pointers, capped by a long-range shot by Nash. Phoenix still led by 11 with 57 seconds left in the half, but the Bobcats closed with a 7-0 burst, including a 3 by Bell just before the buzzer. At the half, Bell topped all scorers with 15 points.

Fast-break points helped keep the Suns in front at intermission. They outscored the Bobcats 17-0 on fast-break points in the second period.

Bell and Diaw, two popular players when they were with the Suns from 2005-08, both were given rousing ovations when they were introduced before the game. The two, along with Sean Singletary, were sent to Charlotte on Dec. 10 for Richardson and Jared Dudley.

"I came back during All-Star [week] in Phoenix and just from fans I saw on the streets and stuff like that, and they said, 'We miss you," Diaw said. "I was hoping ... It was tough. We got behind in the second quarter and the whole game we tried to come back and that's very tough."

Bell said he was surprised by the reception he received before the game.

"It was nice," he said. "I didn't know what to expect. I have nothing but great memories from being here. I'm glad the fans didn't see me as a villain in this whole thing."

The first time the teams met this season, on Jan. 23, the Bobcats handed the Suns their most lopsided defeat of the year, 98-76.

The Suns took charge early in the third period, stretching their lead to 81-63 on a spinning turnaround shot by Richardson while falling to the floor. He also was fouled, completing the three-point play.

The Bobcats battled back thanks to Diaw, who scored nine straight Charlotte points, and Felton, who hit the last three baskets of the period. Heading into the fourth quarter, the Suns led 94-84.

Game notes
The Bobcats began the game as the league's lowest-scoring team, averaging only 92.1 points. ... O'Neal's first three rebounds of the game gave him 12,358, enabling him to pass Paul Silas (12,357) for 16th place on the NBA's career list. ... Diaw now has scored in double figures in 15 straight games. ... Clock malfunctions delayed the game four times. ... Surprisingly, oft-injured Grant Hill is the only Suns player to participate in all 56 games, his longest career streak of consecutive games to start a season. ... The Suns have sold out 148 straight games, including regular season, preseason and postseason games since March 3, 2006. ... Since the start of the season, the Bobcats have seen 23 different players play at least one game.