Posted: Friday May 6, 2005 6:16PM; Updated: Friday May 6, 2005 8:47PM
Steve Nash averaged 11.5 assists and helped the Suns complete one of the biggest turnarounds in NBA history.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Suns guard Steve Nash led Phoenix to the top of the NBA standings this season. Now he's about to be rewarded with the MVP award.
Nash edged Heat center Shaquille O'Neal in media voting for the honor, according to a league source. The award will be officially announced Sunday.
"It's exciting to be mentioned, [but] the game is so important for us on Monday that it's a hard time of year to get excited about MVP," Nash said after practice Friday.
Nash, 31, led the NBA in assists with 11.5 per game while leading the Suns to a 62-20 record. Lured away from the Mavs as a free agent during the offseason, he single-handedly turned Phoenix into a high-scoring juggernaut with his deft passing and play-making. He averaged 15.5 points on 50.2 percent shooting from the floor and 88.7 percent from the foul line. The Suns recorded a 33-game improvement from last season -- one of the biggest turnarounds in NBA history.
In winning the award, Nash joins Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson as the only true point guards in the past 40 years to do so. Sixers guard Allen Iverson won MVP in 2001, but he played mostly shooting guard that season. Nash is also one of the few players under 6-foot-6 to take the honor, joining the likes of Iverson and Bob Cousy (1957).
Nash becomes the first player since Dave Cowens of the Boston Celtics in 1972-73 to win the MVP award without leading his team in scoring. The only others to accomplish that feat were Wes Unseld, Bill Russell and Cousy.
Like Nash, O'Neal also helped turn his team into a league powerhouse in one season. The 7-foot center, acquired by the Heat from the Lakers, averaged 22.9 points and 10.4 rebounds while shooting 60.1 percent from the floor. Thanks in large part to his effort, the Heat finished atop the Eastern Conference standings.
O'Neal would not talk to reporters on Friday after the Heat's practice in Miami. Teammates suggested his mood may get even worse.
"Oooh, that would be scary. If he doesn't win it, it's going to [make him angry]," said Alonzo Mourning, who finished second in the 1999 MVP voting and third in 2000 when O'Neal was chosen as the top player. "I don't want to play against him if he's [angry]. Glad he's on my team."
Both Nash and O'Neal are awaiting the next round of the playoffs. Nash's Suns defeated the Grizzlies in four games, and are awaiting the winner of the Rockets-Mavs series. O'Neal's Heat swept the Nets in the first round, and will play the winner of the Bulls-Wizards series.