HOUSTON (AP) -Steve Nash returned Monday night and the Phoenix Suns were clicking again.
Nash had 24 points and nine assists to help the Suns snap a three-game losing streak with a 123-116 win over the Houston Rockets. The star point guard showed no lingering effects from the groin injury that sidelined him for the Suns' previous two games.
``I had it in my mind that I wanted to play, so I was working every day to try to get ready,' Nash said. ``I felt like I made strides. I went through the day, trying to play, I got here, went through my routine and I was ready.'
Jason Richardson scored 26 points and Grant Hill added 17 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for the Suns, who've won 10 of the last 13 meetings with the Rockets.
The Suns were relieved to have Nash back. All five Phoenix starters scored in double figures, and the team shot 54 percent (42 of 78) from the field.
``Guys are used to playing with him,' Richardson said. ``He makes the game easier for everybody. You see everybody was scoring, everybody got easier touches.'
Kevin Martin scored 19 to lead the Rockets, who've lost four in a row. Houston played its sixth straight game without Yao Ming, who's out with a bone bruise in his left ankle.
The Rockets slipped to 3-10 overall and 1-4 at home this season.
``We have to find a way to keep our heads up,' point guard Kyle Lowry said. ``We are 3-10, but we are not a 3-10 team. We are way better than that.'
Houston was hoping that Nash would sit out, and Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry said before the game that Nash would decide if he could play.
An hour before tipoff, Nash was practicing jumpers from the free-throw line and beyond the 3-point arc. He gave some Suns' assistant coaches a thumbs-up before running off the court to the locker room.
``The soreness is gone,' Nash said. ``It's a combination of moving properly again, strengthening the weakened areas and getting the inflammation out.'
With Nash playing, the Suns hit 13 of their first 19 shots to take the early lead. Nash and Hill scored eight points apiece in the opening period and the Suns led 26-25.
``We were excited,' Hill said of having Nash back on the floor. ``It gives you confidence. We got into a better rhythm offensively.'
Both coaches went to their benches for the start of the second quarter, and the Suns led 41-39 when Nash and Hill returned with 5:17 left before halftime. The Suns went on a 9-0 spurt over the next two minutes, and Richardson's 3-pointer from the wing stretched the lead to 11.
Phoenix shot 56 percent from the field in the second quarter (13 of 23) to lead 59-45 at the break. Houston went 0-for-12 from 3-point range in the first half.
Houston rallied in the third quarter. Lowry converted a three-point play then turned his fifth steal into a breakaway layup to cut the Suns' lead to 74-72.
``We made a really big push in the third quarter,' Rockets forward Luis Scola said. ``We came back and tried. We were really, really close.'
The Rockets missed their next four shots and gave away four turnovers over the next four minutes, and the Suns regained control with a 14-2 run. Hill just beat the quarter buzzer with a 3-pointer to give the Suns a 90-76 lead heading to the fourth.
Houston's reserves trimmed the deficit to seven early in the fourth quarter. The Suns' starters returned with 8:54 left, but Brad Miller converted a three-point play three minutes later to make it 100-96.
Martin sank his second 3-pointer with 3:02 left, but Hedo Turkoglu hit one on the Suns' next possession for a 109-103 lead. Houston's Jordan Hill was called for an offensive foul with 1:52 remaining, and Nash scored at the other end, prompting fans to file for the exits.
``It was a good win for us, a much-needed win,' Gentry said. ``With Steve on the floor, we're going to flow better and everybody seemed to be a lot more confident.'
Notes: Nash became the 16th active player to reach 15,000 career points. He now has 15,007. ... The Suns have scored at least 110 points in their last seven games against Houston. ... Rockets guard Aaron Brooks sat out for the eighth straight game with a sprained left ankle. ... Jordan Hill grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds.
The Associated Press News Service
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