NBA Keys to the Wild, Wild West
The Western Conference finals should be special. The Phoenix Suns have got the hi-octane offense, while the San Antonio Spurs have got the tough defense. It’s the NBA’s version of Ying and Yang.
Here’s why Phoenix will win:
- The Phoenix Suns will win if Steve Nash continues to dominate. He’s been unbelievable. No Grizzly or Maverick has been able to stop the NBA’s MVP. In fact, Dallas should have brought Coach Avery Johnson out of retirement to defend Nash. The “little General” wouldn’t have given “Hair Canada” room to jack that three in the dying seconds of game six.
Nash does so much for the Suns. He’s the team’s leader and brings a focus to Phoenix’s young players.
The Spurs are in trouble if they can’t contain Nash. Just ask Mark Cuban and Jason Terry.
- The Phoenix Suns will win if Joe Johnson recovers from that broken left orbital, which kept him out for most of the Dallas series. Right now, Johnson is only supposed to miss game 1 of the Western Conference finals.
This is a setback for Phoenix. Nash makes the Suns shine, but Johnson is an underrated player. “JJ” can score, defend, pass and play many different positions. With Johnson in the line-up, Jim Jackson can go back to being the team’s sixth man.
Johnson has “Rod Tidwell” motivation for getting back on the court. His contract runs out at the end of the season.
- The Phoenix Suns will win if they get contributions from their second unit. Even after acquiring Jim Jackson and Walter McCarty at mid-season, Phoenix still has a razor-thin bench. The Suns’ starters log heavy minutes and could break down in a physical series. There’s also the risk of foul trouble.
Coach Mike D’Antoni has to get more from Leandro Barbosa and Steven Hunter. Heck, bring in Bo Outlaw for short stretches.
Here’s why San Antonio will win:
- The San Antonio Spurs will win by playing tough transition defense. San Antonio’s coaching staff begins each training camp by preaching defense.
It’s paid off. The Spurs rarely give up easy hoops. However, their impressive transition “D’ will be tested by Phoenix’s fast-paced offense. Bruce Bowen better have those elbows ready.
- The San Antonio Spurs will win if Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker play well. Ginobili has been brilliant for most of the playoffs. Against Denver, he drove aggressively to the basket, which infuriated Nuggets’ coach George Karl. He dominated game five against the Sonics by hitting for 39 points. The Suns will have their hands full with the Argentinean.
- Tony Parker is a different story. He usually disappears in key games. For example, Parker got outplayed by Gary “the older glove” Payton in the last four games of the 2003-2004 Western Conference semi-finals. The Spurs need their point guard to have a good series.
- The San Antonio Spurs will win by slowing down Nash and Amare Stoudemire’s pick-and-roll play. This is a monumental task. Dallas couldn’t guard Phoenix’s version of Stockton to Malone.
San Antonio can use Parker, Bowen or Brent Barry to defend Nash on the high pick. Parker has the quickness to stay with Nash, while Bowen’s got the size to fight through Stoudemire’s screen. Brent Barry’s long arms will help.
Tim Duncan, Nazr Mohammed, Robert Horry and Tony Massenburg will take turns trying to contain Stoudemire on the roll. Duncan and Mohammed have the size; Horry’s long frame can clog up passing lanes. Massenburg should use his strength on Stoudemire.
If these four fail, the Spurs can look to Rasho Nesterovic. Okay, maybe not.
Phoenix’s X factor: Leandro Barbosa. The Suns back-up point guard has to be able to come in and give Nash a rest.
San Antonio’s X factor: Robert Horry. He’s hit some huge shots for Houston’s championship teams. As a member of the Lakers, Horry dethroned the Sacramento Kings with his late three in the 2002 Western Conference Finals.
Prediction: Phoenix Suns in seven.
By Oly Sandor. Oly is an NBA analyst and a free-lance sports journalist based out of Vancouver, Canada. Even after watching the Vancouver Grizzlies draft, start and re-sign Bryant Reeves, Oly’s passion for hoops just couldn’t be denied. His basketball writing has appeared in insidehoops, eurobasket, hoopsvibe, basketball.com and Ballerz magazine. Send him an e-mail at [email protected] .