There's a reason why I always ask to preview and recap most of the games The Suns play against The Spurs. Truth is that I see them play almost as much as my beloved team. I live behind enemy lines and... I don't live in Texas. It's even worse than that since I actually sleep with the enemy.
Having your significant other root for the team you hate is an awful and unique thing. God's ultimate joke, like a friend likes to call it. So the next time your girlfriend/wife asks you to do stuff together like watching a chick flick, go shopping with her, go to a play, or pick tiles for your bathroom, think about me. Her idea of doing things together is watching SA play and actually pretend to care. I have to put up with comments like "Parker is a great player; no one can stop his penetration. And he's so handsome, Eva is so lucky" or "What! That was a foul! Why didn't they call that?" referring to Ginobili's clear flop.
All that time that I've spent watching them has helped me understand that no matter how bad they look, they are always a dangerous team. You can never count them out. Never.
So let's take a look at what the Suns need to do to win this game. Of course...easier said than done.
The Spurs hot stretch
Los Spurs have been under the radar all season long. Mainly due to injuries. There has been a lot of talk about Tim Duncan's decline and how having old players on their roster was affecting their performance. A lot of people thought that, with their tough schedule to finish the regular season, they would slip to eighth place or even out of the playoffs. So much for that. SA has won 7 of their last 9 games, including impressive wins against the Thunder (on the road), Cavaliers (at home), Celtics (road), Magic (home) and Lakers (road).
It's no secret that there's one player who has been responsible for this team's resurgence: Emanuel Ginobili. The dude has been unstoppable. Kobe unstoppable. He has gone on a tear against very tough teams, not only scoring but making plays when they matter the most.
This is what his coach is saying about him: "He had a tough first half of the year, as we all know, but he's been playing All-Star-caliber basketball for the last month. That's the major reason why we kick-started it. Our rotations are more solid; trust on the team on both ends, execution-wise, has been better -- but Manu's play has been instrumental in us winning games."
But, could it be that he's playing better only because he's a free agent next year? Pop doesn't think so: "Manu, he's just such a competitor, if you told him you were going to sign him to a gazillion bucks or if you had no interest in him coming back again, he'd play the same way. It really wouldn't affect him a bit.
"I was worried earlier in the year watching him. I was worried athletically. I was worried energy-wise. He just seemed to be off. He's the Manu now that we've seen help us win championships in years past."
Keys to winning this game
Enough with the Spurs ass kissing. The Suns have been the hottest team in the league and although you might not know this, other teams don't want to play against them in the playoffs. Amar'e is a match up nightmare for any team in the West. But in order for the Suns to win this game they will need a collective effort.
- Containing Manu: Grant Hill, Jason Richardson and Jared Dudley will have their hands full tonight. They will have to deny the lane and force Manu to make the pass. If this doesn't work (like it hasn't worked for any of the teams the Spurs have recently played against) I would take the Kobe approach: Make him score and shoot tough shots while his teammates stand around watching him. The Suns can't afford Roger Mason or any other scrub from their team having career nights.
- Bench play: Our second unit will need to come out firing. Lou, Dudley, Barbosa and the rest of the crew will need to take advantage of the fact that tonight's game will be the second game of a back to back since they played Sacramento last night.
- Keeping Tim Duncan in check: As well as Manu has been playing, Duncan continues to be the reason why this team is so dangerous. Without Robin to match his size, Frye, Collins and even Lou will get the chance to guard him in the post.
- Big offensive nights from J-Rich and Grant Hill: These two are our wildcards. Most of the times when they play at a high level the Suns win easily. We need them both to bring their A-games on both ends of the floor. The Suns are rested so fatigue is not an excuse.
This will be a great game and I don't have to tell you the importance of it. The Suns need to treat this as a playoff game. Tony Parker came back last night but I don't expect him to be a major factor in this game. It will be fun to watch no matter what the outcome is but I sure as hell want the Suns to beat the crap out of them.