San Antonio Versus Phoenix PreviewWestern Conference Second Round
#3 Phoenix (54-28) vs. #7 San Antonio (50-32)
Season series: Phoenix, 2-1
Phoenix can win if…the Suns play reasonably sound defense to complement their very productive offense (110.2 ppg on .492 field goal shooting in the regular season, topping the league in both categories).
San Antonio will win because…the Spurs are not only getting solid contributions from the "Big Three" of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker but also from supporting cast players such as George Hill, Richard Jefferson and Antonio McDyess. During the regular season, the Spurs struggled to stay healthy and find good chemistry but they appear to be peaking at the perfect time.
Other things to consider: Good defensive field goal percentage has been one of the consistent trademarks of Coach Gregg Popovich's Spurs; they slipped somewhat in that regard the past couple years but with their key players healthy versus Dallas in the first round the Spurs held the Mavericks to .430 shooting. The Suns have become a better defensive team under the direction of Coach Alvin Gentry; last season they ranked just 22nd in defensive field goal percentage but they improved to 11th in that category this season, just ahead of the 12th ranked Spurs.
These teams have faced each other three times in the playoffs since Steve Nash joined the Suns, so in some quarters it is considered a big rivalry--but the Spurs won each of those series fairly convincingly (4-1 in the first round in 2008, 4-2 in the second round in 2007 and 4-1 in the 2005 Western Conference Finals). The dominant storyline in those series was that the Spurs proved that they could play well at any tempo while the Suns were only effective at a fast pace; another key factor was that the Suns rarely could get key defensive stops. Amare Stoudemire often puts up monster numbers versus the Spurs but Tim Duncan counters with statistics that are almost as good and he has a much bigger impact defensively overall than Stoudemire does. The Spurs' philosophy is to rarely double team star players, so a Stoudemire or a Dirk Nowitzki can post gaudy statistics against the Spurs but the Spurs stay at home on the other players, eliminating open three pointers and layups by members of the supporting cast. The Suns will need to get good production from someone other than Stoudemire in order to win this series. Even though the Suns have homecourt advantage I suspect that the Spurs will win without having to go the distance, probably in six games.
posted by David Friedman @ 3:31 PM