Sunday, May 6, 2007

Suns v. Spurs Preview.

What To Look For: So wait, now Steve Nash got screwed and a 61 win team-with homecourt advantage are underdogs? What the hell is going on here? This isn’t the way it was supposed to happen. One of these teams was supposed to stumble out of this series only to be trampled by the rested Mavericks, while the other found themselves one step closer to euthanization. Instead, Phoenix and San Antonio will now face each other in the Conference Semis as the top two favorites for not only the West, but the whole thing. It should be expected that they’ll play accordingly. Both may be facing their last legitimate shot at a championship, as their stars age by the day. That urgency will show in the follow through of every J and the intensity of every rebound. After a dismantling of the Nuggets fast break with their defensive fortitude, many expect the Spurs to continue their success by frustrating the Suns in a similar fashion. Tony Parker was the standout player of the season series, attacking with 28 ppg, including a 35 point performance (4/5) in which he frustrated the reigning MVP into foul trouble and the Suns were held to 38% How will Nash respond? This series should also prove to be another epic battle of post positioning between Tim Duncan and Amare Stoudemire. The NBA Finals are happening in May this year, and they’re gonna be great.

Phoenix Strengths/Weaknessess: Scoring quickly and consistently, even off of the inbounds. Strength and athleticism in the frontcourt, snipers on the perimeter and consistent from the line. Oops from half court and beyond, no look passes down the baseline for three, fast break, pick n’ roll, can’t board, spotty defense, yadda, yadda, yadda….It’s amazing how describing something so beautiful can become so tedious after so many viewings. It’s like trying to explain to someone why ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ is so great in less than twenty minutes. Just watch.

San Antonio Strengths/Weaknessess: The Spurs are the lig’s most versatile and balanced team. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli penetrate at will, and are capable of making the open shot if defenders don’t fight through the pick n’ roll. Their passing and decision making in the open court consistently create easy baskets for streaking teammates and they make a Spurs break as dangerous as Phoenix’s. Bruce Bowen and Tim Duncan anchor a suffocating Spurs defense that is committed to transition defense and disturbing the pick n’ roll. That defense broke Denver’s will, leaving them dependent on shaky jump shooters. The uncontainable Allen Iverson was confounded by the seamless efficiency of the Spurs trapping and rotation, missing contested shot after shot which fueled fast break opportunities for Parker and Ginobli. But obviously San Antonio executes best in the half court when the ball goes through the big fundamentals. His endless repertoire of post moves invariably draws a double team, which allows him to feed his strategically placed teammates. San Antonio spaces the floor well and has two more excellent shooters and penetrators in Michael Finley and Brent Barry waiting on their bench. The Spurs shortcomings will be a focal point in this series. Their free throw shooting is abysmal, and they don’t rebound particularly well as a team. Even though they took the season series from Phoenix, San Antonio was outrebounded by the Suns, who are hardly dominant on the glass.

How They’ll Match Up: Tony Parker is going to continue to attack on the offensive end for points in the paint, and Steve Nash is going to have to do his best to stay in front of him in addition to responding on the other end. He’s not going to morph into a defensive stalwart overnight, but his team’s best chances are with him limiting Parker’s easy opportunities, and he knows it. The energy he’ll need to expend defensively will be an additional strain that may limit his effectiveness. Nash is going to need help from his front line to limit penetration, and the Spurs are facing the same problem, so expect plenty of flopping and bitching from both teams as they try to work the refs. Raja Bell and Manu Ginobli might actually just play the whole series on their backs. STAT will hold down the paint with high percentage buckets for the Suns, just as Duncan will for San Antonio, but whoever has the more reliable shooters and can own the boards in this series will be victorious. Shawn Marion, Boris Diaw and Kurt Thomas are superior to the Spurs supplementary bigs, Fabricio Oberto and Fransisco Elson. If they can prove that with offensive rebounds and by making the defense pay for doubling STAT, then Phoenix has a better chance than advertised.

The X Factor(s): Both teams will pick n’ roll each other to death, who is going to make the proper adjustments first? Can San Antonio rebound and make their free throws? Will their bench wear the Suns out? Can Phoenix maintain the defensive intensity that they showed in L.A.? Will they live, or die by the three?

Series Prediction: PhP..Pho.PhPPhoenix in seven. Ugh. I have to go wash my hands…