Western Conference Finals Preview
The Suns have three main ways of scoring: 3 pointers, the fast break and pick and roll with Nash and He Who Scares Me More Than Nash.
First 3 pointers. During the regular season, PHX scored 26.4% of their points via 3Ps. This percentage went down to 25.3% during the playoffs. As I pointed out before the Sonics series, the Spurs allow by far the fewest amount of 3P attempts in the NBA. During the regular season, SEA attempted 22.2 3P per game. That came down to 13.0 against the Spurs in the playoffs. (Yes, I know two of SEA's 3 big 3P shooters missed most of the series. That's not enough to explain the huge drop off). PHX averaged 24.7 3PA during the regular season but only 15.3 against the Spurs. It's by design people. 3 > 2: Gregg Popovich is a genius, Q.E.D.
News flash: the Suns like to run. So did DEN. The Spurs do not take a lot of bad shots, generally do not turn the ball over a lot (6th in the league; though they will undoubtedly throw in a nice 22 TO game sometime in this series) and make it a point to get a minimum of two guys back at all times. Any of you folks watch game 6 of the DAL-PHX series? Towards the end, with less than 3 minutes to go in a tight game, Marion leaked out for a layup and the foul. That sort of crap doesn't happen against the Spurs.
Now for the Stoudemire/Nash pick and roll. Somebody hold me. Amare makes me weak in the knees. He's like Lebron in the following manner: he's about *this* far from figuring "it" out and becoming entirely unguardable. Here's Amare's average line against SA this year: 38.7 PTS on 20 FGA and 12.3 FTA. That's what I like to call "stupid good." Part of the reason behind this is how the Spurs defended the pick and roll. The big man would hedge out, without "jumping" the pick and roll, and Nash's man would go over the top and sort of sag trying to cut off the passing lane to Amare. It seriously limited Nash (13 PPG) but allowed Amare to get about 8 dunks a game on perfect bounce passes from He Who Certainly Didn't Deserve the MVP Award.
Will the Spurs play the pick and roll differently during the playoffs? Absolutely, if for no other reason that Mohammed didn't play a single minute in any of the regular season games. (A quick note: Tim Duncan rarely, if ever, guards the other team's "good" big man. Amare saw a lot of Rasho and Horry.) This, of course, scares the living shit out of me. For 90% of the playoffs Nazr has been a horrible pick and roll defender. However, the 10% of time he didn't suck happened to be the last 6 quarters of basketball he played. He was so bad during the first half of game 5 that I was forced to write something about him during the break. I presume Pop ripped him a new one in the locker room because he played the pick and roll entirely differently during the last half of the game. Jumping the dribbler aggressively; hands moving, active, finally figuring out that standing in the lane is not pick and roll defense. Hopefully he'll retain this knowledge during the PHX series. (It should be noted that as a purely one on one defender against Stoudemire, Nazr is a huge step up over Rasho.)
If those three offensive options break down, PHX simply gives the ball to Nash and let's him do his thing, which (along with atrocious pick and roll defense) led to him averaging about 30 PPG against the Mavericks. This won't happen against the Spurs. Parker is a much better defender than Terry and SA actually plays team oriented defense (while DAL stands around and screams at each other).
Which leads to how PHX's defense stacks up against SA's offense. I only have 11 minutes, so I'll make this quick.
PHX isn't as bad defensively as people think; they are actually 16th in defensive efficiency.
Nash cannot stay in front of Parker. However, assuming D'Antoni has any tape of the games 3,4,5 or 6 of the SEA series, he'll go under every pick and roll, play Nash 4 feet off him and beg Monsieur Parker to shoot the outside J.
Shawn Marion will be guarding Tim Duncan. Uh. OK. Good luck with that.
Q Richardson, due to Joe Johnson's injury (out for at least game 1), will have apparently guard Manu (this is what I've heard; Jackson on Bowen). This is comical.
Those are some bad matchups for PHX. And when The Sickness gets to the basket at will, who's going to foul him? You only play 7/8 players and you make it a point not to foul.
I see this series as a continuation of The Sickness' journey to NBA Finals MVP.
Spurs in 6.