- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 1, 2006

The NBA’s MVP race is the two-person undertaking of Steve Nash and Chauncey Billups.

The others — Elton Brand, Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki — are distant candidates at the midway point in the season.

Nash has provided a stirring encore to his tirelessly debated MVP acquisition last season. It comes in the absence of Amare Stoudemire, the team’s No. 2 player who has yet to score a point or snare a rebound this season. His injury was expected to cripple the Suns, Nash or not.

Yet the mop-haired player who blew in from the cold of British Columbia is showing anew that his peripheral vision and quirky movements are the basketball equivalent of a team elixir, impervious to the limitations of those on the receiving end of his passes.

His gift is to turn the ordinary into the effective.

The Suns have seven players averaging in double figures, a statistical anomaly no doubt attributed to the maestro in their midst.

Wizards coach Eddie Jordan put it succinctly after the mobility-challenged Kurt Thomas scored 18 points in the first meeting between the two teams.

Asked how that could happen, Jordan said: “He has Steve Nash on his team.”

No further explanation was necessary.

Suns coach Mike D’Antoni already has suggested that Nash is more deserving of the MVP award this season than last.

His bias is understandable. He draws up a play, and Nash ad-libs from there. Nash is liable to drive to the basket before dribbling from one side of the floor to the other and finding an open teammate.

This is not taught in Basketball 101. The conventional calculation on a foray to the basket is either to dump the ball to a teammate or take the shot. Dribbling through the pack used to be seen as an admission of surrender.

With Nash, it is just one more weapon that probes the soft spots in the defense.

Nash leads the NBA in assists and corrective measures to remove the spaghetti-like strands of hair from his face. He is second in free throw percentage and fifth in double-doubles.

Nash is said to be more defensively focused this season, along with the rest of the Suns. Defense is forever the challenge before Nash, mostly because he is not much taller than 6-foot, contrary to his listed height of 6 feet, 3 inches.

Yet his is a petty flaw, all things considered, not unlike the mole on Cindy Crawford’s face.

If not Nash, then Billups.

The ascent of Billups is salient on a number of levels. The ninth-year point guard has yet to appear in his first All-Star Game, although that is expected to change later this month.

Billups has landed in the MVP race with the markings of a journeyman’s career at one time. When he signed with the Pistons as a free agent before the 2002-03 season, it was his sixth NBA team in six seasons.

Billups was traded three times in two years early in his career. The modest exchanges altered the course of no team. The last transaction involving Billups turns out to be another indictment of Kevin McHale, who allowed the 2004 NBA Finals MVP to skip town with nary a concern.

Now Billups is the essential element on a team that is flirting with the 70-win mark.

His assist/turnover ratio is third in the NBA. He is ranked in the top 20 of 15 statistical categories.

At age 29 — late by NBA standards — Billups has emerged as a genuine star who relishes taking the big shot.

He has more able personnel at his side than Nash.

That will be the most subjective aspect of the MVP decision involving the two.

Billups and the Pistons are chasing history, while Nash and the Suns remain on a 50-win pace in the absence of Stoudemire.

The choice between the two is apt to require a coin flip.

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