Suns Preparing for Battle w/ Spurs in Round 1
Admit it... you would probably prefer that the Suns played another team in the 1st round and saved the Spurs for later in the playoffs. Unfortunately, the basketball gods have chosen to give us the most intriguing matchup of the playoffs - right off the bat. Seeing the Lakers & Celtics battle in the Finals would probably top this matchup, but I'm penciling in the Suns - not the Lakers.
Suns vs. Spurs, homecourt in San Antonio... if the Suns are going to show they belong, what better way to do it than by defeating the defending NBA Champions in their own house. What sweet revenge that would be!
The Spurs will attempt to use their quickness in the backcourt, while also trying to have Tim Duncan control the middle. He'll have a tough time, however, with both Shaquille O'Neal and Amare Stoudemire defending him. Duncan's hands will also be full defending Amare in the low post or off the pick & roll w/ Steve Nash. Either way, STAT has proved that he's more than capable of playing well against the Spurs; contingent on not being suspended of course :P
Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili will have to play their best basketball of the season in order to defeat the Suns, but their up for the challenge, no doubt. It's up to Raja Bell and Grant Hill to play some decent defense and at least slow the two down. Keeping Ginobili "cold" is the key, as evidenced by the Suns' convincing defeat a few weeks ago in San Antonio.
The Suns will still need all cylinders firing if they want to win this. That means Leandro Barbosa, Boris Diaw and the bench will have to put up solid numbers & play well in virtually every game of the series. Phoenix will also need Steve Nash to do what he does best - make the other players better. He needs to keep in the flow of the game by being aggressive and taking his shot, however, since the team tends to struggle when Nash tries to hard to get everyone involved.
Coach D'Antoni will need to utilize his bench throughout the series and the playoffs overall. If he fails to keep the starters minutes down, he's going to have a tired bunch in the later rounds and that's never good. The recent play by Brian Skinner is encouraging and he has 6 fouls to give up each game. The Suns should use those each game to punish Duncan in the post and keep him from controlling the game. Mr. Smooth is a poor free throw shooter, so Phoenix should benefit by fouling Duncan and sending him to the line.
Keys to the game (& series):
Rebounding - The Suns don't necessarily need to win the battle of the boards, but they need to keep the totals within about 5 rebounds or they'll be in trouble.
Easy Baskets - Phoenix needs to take care of the ball and avoid turnovers. If the Spurs get easy baskets on the turnovers, it will be a long night (& series). The Suns also need to run the break & get fast break points as often as possible. San Antonio is the oldest team in the league - the Suns should reinforce that by wearing them down.
Contain the Big-3 - While it might make sense to let Parker, Ginobili & Duncan get their stats and shutdown the other Spurs players, I think that doing so would put control of the series SA's hands. Make the other guys beat you, because they're a lot weaker than the big 3.
Defense - Ya, they will have to play defense, whether they like it or not, and lately they do. Look for Amare & Shaq to be aggressive by altering shots and controlling the boards.
Mind Games - This is the biggest threat to the Suns in my opinion. Coach Popovich is good at playing mind games w/ the opponent and leading them into beating themselves. The Spurs get under your skin and force you to react. Last year's cheap shots & subsequent suspensions say all that needs to be said.
I see this series as a great opportunity for the Suns, not only for redemption against the Spurs, but it will also help them ascend to the next level. The Western Conference playoffs will be tough up until the Finals, and Detroit (or) Boston are no cake-walk either.
What do you think the Suns will need to do to win?