Thursday , May , 03 , 2007 C.Y. Ellis

NBA Playoff Preview – Phoenix vs. San Antonio

(Sports Network) – The Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs play for a spot in
the Western Conference finals, as they battle in a best-of-seven playoff

Phoenix, which won its third straight Pacific Division title during the
regular season and is the second seed in the West playoffs, owns the home-
court advantage over the third-seeded Spurs.

There is a lot of playoff history between the teams, as this is the eighth
time that the clubs have met in the postseason. The Suns defeated San
Antonio in the first round in 1992 and 2000 and in the semis in 1993. The
Spurs beat Phoenix in the opening round in 1996, 1998 and 2003 and also in the
2005 Western Conference finals.

The Suns have been eliminated in the Western Conference finals two consecutive
years. Phoenix lost in five games to the Spurs in 2005, and fell in six last
year to the Dallas Mavericks.

In round one, the Suns made it two straight years that they have eliminated
Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. All-Star Amare Stoudemire, who did not
participate in last year’s playoffs because of a knee injury, averaged team-
highs in points (24.2 ppg) and rebounds (13.6 rpg) as Phoenix earned a 4-1
series victory over the seventh-seeded Lakers.

Last season, the Lakers blew a 3-1 lead in the first round against Phoenix.
Los Angeles fell in seven contests and was eliminated in the opening round for
the first time since 1996.

Reigning MVP Steve Nash posted 16.0 points and a team-best 14.0 assists
against the Lakers, while Sixth Man of the Year Leandro Barbosa collected 21.2
points per game. All-Star Shawn Marion ended the first-round series with
averages of 18.4 points and 10.2 rebounds for the Suns, who are in the
postseason for a third straight year.

Phoenix head coach Mike D’Antoni, who made his All-Star coaching debut this
year and was the 2004-05 NBA Coach of the Year, continues to allow his club
to do what it does best, score. The Suns simply outscored their opponents
with their powerful offense. Against San Antonio, D’Antoni will also try
to get his club to play some defense.

San Antonio ousted No. 6 Denver in five games. After dropping Game 1 at home,
the Spurs took control of the series by winning four in a row, including Games
3 and 4 at the Pepsi Center.

All-Stars Tim Duncan and Tony Parker continue to come up big for the Spurs.
Duncan led the team in scoring (20.2 ppg) and rebounding (10.2 rpg), while
Parker averaged 18.2 points and a team-best 6.8 assists versus the Nuggets.

Veteran forward Robert Horry, who has six championship rings, once again
showed that the playoffs are his time of year, as he made big plays and
knocked down clutch shots in round one. Horry averaged 7.8 points and 3.6
boards in about 21 minutes per contest.

Michael Finley and Manu Ginobili also had solid series for the Spurs. who have
at least made it to the Western Conference semifinals for a seventh straight

The Spurs are appearing in the postseason for the 10th straight year and have
won three of the last eight NBA championships. Last season, San Antonio
was eliminated in the conference semis by the Dallas Mavericks in seven games.

During the regular season, the Spurs won two of three meetings with the Suns.
San Antonio won a pair at the AT&T Center, while Phoenix defeated the Spurs,
103-87, on February 1st at US Airways Center.

FRONTCOURT: Stoudemire, Marion and James Jones will have to work hard on both
ends of the court in this series. The athletic Marion can do it all as he is
dangerous from the outside and is effective driving to the hoop, while
Stoudemire is a force down low and is also able fill a lane when Nash leads
the Suns on the break. Jones makes his living from the outside and will only
stay on the court if he is hitting his shots.

Duncan is still one of the top forwards in the game, while Francisco Elson,
has been serviceable in the middle and Bowen knows his role and takes a lot of
pride in his defensive work.

Both teams will try and make the other work very hard for everything they
collect on the stat sheet. Duncan and company will have to keep up with the
more athletic Suns, while Phoenix will look to contain Duncan and try and make
Elson and Bowen beat them.

Stoudemire is a completely healthy and will be very difficult for San Antonio
to stop. The Suns athleticism wins out here.


BACKCOURT: Nash continues to make all of his teammates better, and is the
catalyst of the Suns’ offense. The Santa Clara product is the best at his job
and is on a mission to get his club back to the West Finals and then onto the
championship round.

The 6-5 Bell is a hard-nosed player who is not afraid to get his hands dirty.
He is Phoenix’ best perimeter defender, a solid outside shooter, and like the
rest of his teammates has benefited from Nash’s unbelievable playmaking
ability and mind-boggling passes.

San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich, who has led the Spurs to three NBA
championships during his tenure in San Antonio and was named the 2002-2003 NBA
Coach of the Year, can switch his starting backcourt from game-to-game. Parker
will always be at the point, while Finley, who started all five games against
Denver and averaged 16.0 points in the series, or Ginobili are both capable
backcourt mates for the All-Star Parker.

Parker has a solid all-around game and fits perfectly into Popovich’s style of
play. Finley excels in transition and should have another strong series
against Phoenix, while Ginobili is very dangerous when his game is on and
arguably makes the Spurs a stronger team when he is coming off the bench.

Parker is not an easy matchup for Nash, and Bell will have his hands full with
Ginobili and Finley when they are on the court. Should be a great battle.


BENCH: Barbosa could start for most teams in the league. He can play both
guard spots and is effective scoring or dishing the ball to his teammates. The
6-3 Barbosa was clutch against the Lakers, and D’Antoni will need a similar
performance from his lightning-quick guard in this round.

Versatile Boris Diaw can play all three spots in the frontcourt for D’Antoni,
while veteran big man Kurt Thomas, who averaged 5.0 points and 3.2 boards in
about 11 minutes per game in the first round, is a physical low-post player
and does his best work around the basket. The 6-8 Diaw, who averaged 7.6
points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists versus LA, did not have a great regular
season and it would be a huge boost to the Suns if he found his game against
San Antonio.

Reserve big man Fabricio Oberto played well against Denver for the Spurs,
while Brent Barry, Ginobili, who posted 13.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.8
assists in the first round, and the 36-year-old Horry give Popovich some solid
options off the bench. The Spurs’ general has a lot of flexibility, as all are
capable of playing multiple positions.

Both coaches have solid options off the pine. Popovich’s veteran bunch of
reserves will play more minutes, while Barbosa and Diaw will be D’Antoni’s go-
to players off the bench.


PREDICTION: This should be a great series. The Spurs are a veteran team who
have experienced what it feels like to win a championship. The Suns have the
crafty point guard and the young lions who are ready to show that they can
beat the mighty Spurs with their free-wheeling offense.

Nash and the Suns over Duncan and the Spurs in a classic.