(Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images)

(Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images)

His brilliance tends to get lost amidst all the fussing and fuming about this decidedly up and down (and nearly out) season, but some nights Steve Nash’s artistry not only reminds us of how much he has meant to this franchise over the years but demonstrates just how much he still does.

This was one of those nights. A night when the artistry that made him a two-time MVP and sure fire Hall of Famer engineered a victory that preserved whatever playoff hopes the Suns still have.

Nash had 25 points, and 17 assists (and only 1 turnover), but as usual when he’s at his brilliant best, those scintillating numbers actually understate his masterful game management and clutch play down the stretch, and once again served as a reminder of what a total disaster the Suns would be without him.

Nash had nine of his points in the last 5 minutes of the fourth period, and he sealed the victory with a three-pointer, a medium jumper and a steal in two-minute span after the Suns had erased a seven-point deficit with a 15-0 run.

During this winter of fan discontent even Nash caught some heat, especially about his defense, although carping about Nash’s defensive limitations has always struck me like grumbling that Heifetz was a lousy piano player.

The other two members of the Suns’ Over The Hill Gang also made major contributions in a win that kept the Suns within mathematical range of the Mavericks (but also rubbed salt in what may turn out to have been a fatal wound incurred against lowly Sacramento). Shaquille O’Neal battled Yao Ming to a virtual draw and Grant Hill hit 10 of 13 shots from the field.

In a sense this game was the proverbial microcosm of the season for the Suns, which is to say that parts of the time they looked like a seed that could take out anybody and in other parts like a lottery lock.

This was their sixth straight home victory, four coming against playoff teams, and they have led the league in scoring and points in the paint by a wide margin since the All-Star break even with two of their most explosive scorers in street clothes. But unless Dallas loses at least four of its last seven games all this gold will not glitter even if the Suns meet Coach Alvin’s stated goal of running the table.

In fact, much of the local buzz has already shifted to who will go and who will stay, and whether the Suns should try to keep their core group together or tear everything down and start over.

The bottom line: One thing to keep in mind is that “disaster” is definitely relative. The Suns will almost surely win 45 or 46 games, which might very well be good for home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs in the East. On the other hand, even 47 wins might not be good enough to get into the playoffs in the West. But alas, the Suns have sort of been there done that. The 1970-71 team missed the cut with 48 wins, and the ’71-72 team missed it with 49 wins.

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