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Nash has big night, Suns win, but still miss playoffs

NEW ORLEANS -- Steve Nash and Shaquille O'Neal will be playoff outsiders for the first time in a long time.

Nash had 24 points and 13 assists, making six key free throws in the final 42 seconds, and Phoenix survived a late New Orleans rally to take a 105-100 victory on Wednesday night.

But the victory wasn't enough to keep Phoenix's playoff hopes alive. The Suns were knocked out of the postseason for the first time since 2004, when Dallas beat Utah later Wednesday night. The Mavericks became the final team to lock up a spot in the Western Conference playoffs.

For O'Neal, it will be the first time his team has not played in the postseason since his rookie season of 1992-93 with Orlando. Nash last missed the postseason in 1999 with Dallas.

The game plan Wednesday night was to make Chris Paul carry the offense for New Orleans, and it worked great.

"With Chris Paul, you have to make him try to make all the shots," Gentry said. "If you trap him and he gets Peja [Stojakovic] and Rasual [Butler] involved, you can get in trouble. We made him shoot all the shots. If you don't do that, he will stretch your defense and kill you."

Paul wound up with a game-high 29 points and 16 assists, but he was 13-of-29 shooting and turned the ball over three times. He also acknowledged afterward that he was tired, playing his second game in as many nights after New Orleans had escaped Miami with an overtime win on Tuesday.

"There was a point in the game today where you get a little winded because not only was it back-to-back and stuff, but it was a very fast-paced game and trying to run around with Steve Nash and trying to push the tempo," Paul said. "It just didn't work out for us tonight. I missed a lot of wide open shots and they got a lot of easy baskets."

David West had 28 points and 12 rebounds for New Orleans, which trailed by 14 early in the fourth quarter but got as close as 100-97 on Stojakovic's 3-pointer with 26 seconds to go.

The Suns trailed by 10 early but rallied to beat New Orleans for the first time in two seasons with a balanced effort as five players scored in double figures.

O'Neal had 17 points and 11 rebounds, dunking numerous times and once taking a long rebound and dribbling three quarters of the court for a driving floater off the glass. Jason Richardson had 17 points. Grant Hill and Jared Dudley each added 10.

Hill hit a pair of key jumpers in the last three minutes.

"We could have mailed it in," Hill said. "We got down early but we just kept our composure."

Nash was 7-of-9 from the field and made all nine of his free throw attempts. O'Neal was 7-of-10 from the field, which only raised his NBA-leading 61 percent field goal percentage for the season, and the Suns shot 51.4 percent (37-of-72) as a team.

Stojakovic finished with 18 points for New Orleans and Rasual Butler had 10. New Orleans reserves were unable to contribute much, however, and were outscored 28-11 by the Suns' reserves.

"We need big-time help off the bench and we just aren't getting it," Hornets coach Byron Scott said. "To win, we need to have six or seven guys come out and play hard, especially in the Western Conference."

The Hornets led 53-49 after Paul's jumper opened scoring in the second half, but Phoenix began to take command soon after.

Nash had seven points and six assists in the third quarter, guiding Phoenix to a pair of 8-0 runs and helping the Suns outscore New Orleans 26-14 in the period. Richardson turned one Nash pass into a fast-break layup as he was fouled, putting Phoenix up 67-57 midway through the quarter. Richardson had nine points in the period, and the Suns took a 75-65 lead into the final quarter.

Early in the fourth, Dudley's third 3 of the game gave Phoenix its largest lead at 80-66. The Suns again led by 14 when Goran Dragic was left alone for a 3 with 9:35 to go.

West almost single-handedly made a game of it in the fourth, when he scored 16 points despite getting his fifth foul on a charge with 6:31 left. His reverse layup pulled New Orleans to 90-85 with 3:40 left.

New Orleans had a shot to cut it further on its next possession, but Nash drew a charge on Paul -- Paul's fifth foul -- with 3:21 to go. Still, West kept the Hornets in it with his fall-away as he was fouled by Dudley, making it 92-88.

Hill then responded with a 17-foot jumper and the Suns held on from there.

Game notes
The Suns beat the Hornets for the first time in seven games, avoiding a second-straight season sweep. ... West has scored 20 or more points in seven of eight games. ... Paul has scored 20 or more points in 16 of 19 games. ... The Suns snapped a four-game road losing streak.