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Unsure About the Nash Rest Plan

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Steve Nash is skeptical of the Suns' plan to increase his rest this season.  Me too.

The incredible reliance placed on Nash by the Suns to drive their high-octane offense over the last four seasons has certainly put its share of mileage on the 34-year-old point guard.  This has lead to questions about whether some of the Suns' difficulties in recent postseasons could have been somewhat alleviated if Nash was a bit more well-rested over the course of the season.

The idea of a fresher Nash for the playoffs is a nice one in principle.  However, there is only so much that can be sacrificed in the regular season to meet that end.  Steve Kerr's current plan for the 2008-09 season - a 70-game regular season cap for the Nashty one - seems like the sort of move that would cross that line.

For the Suns' sake, here's hoping new coach Terry Porter vetoes this one as it's hard to see it working out all that well.

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The combination of the toughness of the Western Conference and Nash's importance to this Phoenix team make sitting the point guard for double-digit games such a risky proposition.

In 2007-08, the entire Western Conference playoff bracket was separated by seven games, and every team had at least 50 wins, with the Warriors' 48-34 record putting them on the outside looking in.  A season later, the West doesn't look to be any less tough, with Suns beat writer Scott Bordow of the East Valley Tribune stating outright that the Spurs, Lakers, Hornets, Jazz and Rockets are all definitively better than the Suns, with the Blazers and Mavericks on a similar level to Phoenix.  If the Warriors get healthy or the Nugs or Clippers stay healhty, those three teams have the firepower to at least challenge for a spot as well. 

What this means is that the margin for error in the Western Conference remains extremely low.  While a more potent postseason Nash might make seeding less important to the Suns, getting him extra rest in the regular season can't come at the cost of possibly risking a playoff berth altogether.  The Suns had just seven more wins than ninth-place Golden State a season ago, and that was with Nash playing 81 games.  Phoenix isn't necessarily expected to be as good this year even with everybody in the line-up, and the West has only gotten better.

Further, this Suns team is not exactly one that has been built to be successful without Nash on the floor.  Bordow cites the Suns' 4-13 record without Nash over the last three seasons, and perhaps equally concerning is how badly their efficiency drops without him on the court.  The Suns were 15.5 points worse per 100 possessions offensively without Nash on the court last season and only a point better defensively, creating a difference of 14.5 points per 100 possessions in the wrong direction when Nash was out of the game.  While the arrival of rookie point guard Goran Dragic is expected to help alleviate part of the problem here, it isn't likely to take care of all of it, and it remains hard to imagine that the Suns will be able to comfortably afford resting Nash for 12 games.

Perhaps going the more conventional route of getting Nash more in-game rest over the course of the season will be doable for Terry Porter and the Suns.  This would still leave the Suns without their main man for stretches at a time, but the stretches wouldn't be all that long, and Nash would be available to help push the team toward the winning cause for as close to 82 games as possible, barring injuries. 

The West remains as tough a place as it's ever been, and the Suns no longer enjoy the leeway of being ahead of so much of the rest of the field as they were in past regular seasons.  The likelihood is that the purple and orange won't be able to afford anything short of having Steve Nash in uniform as often as possible in the season to come.