Monday , May , 09 , 2005 C.Y. Ellis

NBA Playoff Preview – Phoenix vs. Dallas

***** NBA Playoff Preview – Phoenix vs. Dallas *****
From The Sports Network

By Warren Blatt, NBA Editor

PHOENIX SUNS: 1st Seed, West (62-20)

DALLAS MAVERICKS: 4th Seed, West (58-24)

(Sports Network) – The top-seeded Phoenix Suns bring their high-scoring act to
the Western Conference semifinals, as they meet the fifth-seeded Dallas
Mavericks in the best-of-seven series.

This is the first time that the teams will be meeting in the postseason.

The Suns are playing in the postseason after a one-year absence. In the 2003
playoffs, Phoenix was eliminated by the San Antonio Spurs in six games in the
first round after going 44-38 in the 2002-03 regular season.

Phoenix has made it to the conference semifinals for the first time since
2000, when it was eliminated in five games by the Lakers. The Suns have lost
their last three trips to this round, as they fell to the Lakers, and Houston
in 1994 and 1995.

The last time the Suns advanced to the Western Conference finals was in 1993,
as they beat San Antonio, 4-2, in the semis and went on to defeat Seattle in
seven games in the next round.

After a dismal 29-53 season in 2003-04, the Suns went out and signed free
agents Steve Nash, who was named this year’s league MVP, and Quentin
Richardson to lucrative, multi-year deals. Add Amare Stoudemire and Shawn
Marion to the equation, and Phoenix became the best team in the NBA during the
regular season. In fact, the Suns were the only team in the league to have
three players in this year’s All-Star Game as Marion, Nash, and Stoudemire
were all participants for the Western Conference during February 20th’s
contest.

The MVP Nash played the first two years of his career with Phoenix, before
being traded to Dallas in June 1998. Nash was a two-time All-Star as a member
of the Mavericks and left after six seasons to sign with the Suns on July 14,
2004. At 6-foot-3, Nash became the third shortest MVP in league history. He is
the second MVP in Suns history (Charles Barkley in 1992-93) and just the
fourth point guard in the award’s history.

The Suns tied the franchise record for most wins in a season. In the 1992-93
campaign they also went 62-20 in the regular season and advanced to the NBA
Finals. Phoenix lost in six games in the championship round to Michael Jordan
and the Chicago Bulls.

In the first round, the Suns swept the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies.
Phoenix won the four games by a total margin of 44 points. Marion, Nash and
Stoudemire played like the All-Stars that they are in the opening round.
Stoudemire led the club in scoring (22.8 ppg), while Marion grabbed a team-
best 12.5 rebounds per game and Nash dished out a team-high 11.3 assists per
contest.

Joe Johnson and Richardson, the Suns other starters, also had a solid
showings versus Memphis. Johnson poured in 20.3 points, pulled down 5.5
rebounds and handed out 3.5 helpers per game in the set, while Richardson
averaged 15 points and 4.8 boards.

Phoenix scored and average of 113.8 points against Memphis, while it
surrendered 102.8 points to the Grizzlies in the four contests.

The Suns own home-court advantage in this series. They were 31-10 at home
during the regular season, and had the same impressive record as the visitor.

The Mavericks had a fantastic regular season as they were 58-24, which was the
second-best record in franchise history. They won a franchise-best 60 games in
the 2002-03 campaign.

Dallas had entered the postseason as the hottest team in the NBA, winning
its final nine games of the regular season. But, the Mavericks are lucky to be
alive, as they survived the first round by defeating No. 5 Houston, who won
Games 1 and 2 at Dallas, in seven games.

With the victory over the Rockets, the Mavericks became just the third team in
NBA history to win a best-of-seven series after losing the first two games at
home. The others were the Los Angeles Lakers in 1969 and the Rockets in 1994.

All-Star Dirk Nowitzki, who shot a dismal 35 percent from the field in round
one, led the Mavericks in scoring (21.3 ppg) and rebounding (8.9 rpg) against
Houston. Nowitzki did have problems getting good looks at the hoop as the
Houston defenders clamped down on him and were able to keep him off balance
throughout the series.

Guard Jason Terry, who averaged 12.4 points during the regular season, scored
31 points in Game 7 versus the Rockets and picked up some of the load on
offense for the struggling Nowitzki. He posted 18.3 points and a team-best 4.3
assists. Twenty-five-year-old Josh Howard, who netted 21 and grabbed 11 boards
in the decisive game against Houston, contributed 13.6 points and 6.6 rebounds
per contest in round one.

The Mavericks, who fell in five games to Sacramento in the first round of last
year’s playoffs, have reached the conference semifinals for the seventh time
in franchise history. They are 2-4 all-time in this round, as they defeated
the Denver Nuggets in six games in 1988 and ousted the Kings in seven contests
in 2003. Dallas fell in seven games in the 1988 West final to the Lakers and
lost to San Antonio in six in 2003.

Dallas was an impressive 29-12 at home and on the road during the regular
season.

FRONTCOURT: Marion, Richardson and Stoudemire are dynamite for Phoenix.
The Suns’ trio works unbelievably well together. All three are very athletic
and they excel in the fast-paced style that Phoenix plays. Stoudemire, who
averaged nine rebounds and 2.5 blocks against Memphis, patrols the middle and
is one of the most intimidating players in the league. The 6-10 Stoudemire is
a monster on the glass and is almost unstoppable when he gets the ball within
six feet from the hoop.

Marion, who averaged 21.3 points per game in the first round, and Richardson
can both knock down the three and are also able to drive to the basket with
great results. The two team with Stoudemire to give Phoenix the most exciting
frontcourt in the NBA.

Nowitzki teams with center Erick Dampier and Howard to give Dallas a solid
frontcourt. The 7-0 Nowitzki can play inside or outside. His game is complete
and because of his versatility and size he creates major matchup problems.
Howard is athletic and is a perfect complement to his frontcourt partners. He
can get out in the open court for some east hoops and is also a decent
defender.

The Mavericks have a center in Dampier, who averaged just 6.3 points and 6.4
boards against Houston, that gives them the presence down low that they have
lacked in past playoff runs. Dampier is a strong rebounder and will be able to
hold his own in the paint and on the blocks. He did shoot 63 percent from the
field in the first round, but he needs to be more productive for Dallas to be
successful.

The Suns are too athletic up front for Dallas. The tempo that will be played
in this series favors the Suns’ frontcourt. Dampier could struggle big-time in
this one.

EDGE: PHOENIX

BACKCOURT: Nash, who netted 15 points per game versus the Grizzlies, has
played like an MVP for Phoenix all season long and into the postseason. The
Suns’ offense follows Nash’s lead. He is the catalyst and controls the tempo
and flow of the game for Phoenix.

Johnson teams with Nash to give Phoenix an excellent starting duo.
Johnson does not have star power like some of his teammates, but he is a solid
player who knows and understands his role. He made an impressive 53.7 percent
of his shots against Memphis, and if he gives the Suns a repeat performance
this round it will make Marion, Nash and Stoudemire that more dangerous.

Terry and Michael Finley, who averaged just 13.1 points against the Rockets,
are a solid duo. Terry will need to keep playing like he did against Houston,
while Finley needs to pickup his scoring. If Terry does not have a repeat
performance from round one, Dallas will be in trouble.

Nash will breakdown Terry, and Johnson will tire out Finley as this series
progresses.

EDGE: PHOENIX

BENCH: An overwhelming majority of the minutes for Phoenix goes to its
starters. Veteran swingman Jim Jackson, center Steven Hunter and guard
Leandrinho Barbosa will play the minutes that the Suns’ starters can’t.

Jackson had a solid series against the Grizzlies, as he averaged 11 points and
2.8 rebounds in just over 21 minutes of action per game. He is a decent player
around the perimeter and can light up the scoreboard if he finds his range.
Hunter, who fills in for Stoudemire and Marion when called upon, scored seven
points and grabbed 3.8 boards per game against Memphis, while Barbosa played
just over six minutes per contest.

The Mavericks are as deep as any team in the league. Jerry Stackhouse, who
averaged 13.9 points against Houston, can play shooting guard or small
forward. He gives Dallas instant offense off the bench.

Guards Marquis Daniels, Devin Harris and Darrell Armstrong are also solid
reserves. Like Stackhouse, Daniels can play shooting guard or small forward,
while the rookie Harris will see his minutes at the point and the 36-year-old
Armstrong has plenty of experience. Veterans Shawn Bradley and Alan Henderson
will eat up some minutes up front when needed.

Dallas forward Keith Van Horn suffered a sprained ankle in the first round and
could return at some point in the playoffs. He would give the Mavericks
another outside threat, as well as a player who can play either forward spot.

EDGE: DALLAS

COACH: Mike D’Antoni became the 12th head coach of the Suns on December 10,
2003, and was just 21-40 after he replaced Frank Johnson during the 2003-04
campaign. When the Suns signed Nash and Richardson in the offseason, D’Antoni
realized the type of club he had and allowed the explosive Suns to run wild on
offense this season. His philosophy of an up-tempo style is perfect for his
squad and he has shown that he is a smart coach by playing to his teams
strengths all season long.

Avery Johnson, who became the fifth rookie head coach in NBA history to win a
Game 7, has convinced the Mavericks that they have to play defense in
order beat the best teams in the league. He has Dallas playing with more
energy, enthusiasm and intensity. Johnson won a title during his playing days
as a member of the 1999 San Antonio Spurs NBA Championship team.

EDGE: EVEN

PREDICTION: This could be one of the highest scoring best-of-seven series in
NBA history. Even though Dallas has improved defensively under Johnson, it
won’t be able to stop the high-powered Suns. The Mavericks have enough scorers
to make this a series, but this one will go to No. 1 Phoenix.

It will be fun to watch!

PHOENIX IN SEVEN

DAL PHO