Some quick notes from today's practice before we get into the keys to the series.
- Robin practiced again today and participated in full court drills. Gentry was ask if he would put Lopez on the active list for Game 1, "We'll have to see. We'll see."
- It very well could be that Alvin is just playing some mind games here and I would be shocked if Robin played in the first two games and yet, you never know.
- If he responds well and looks and feels good on Monday, why not suit him up? We know he hates sitting by the water cooler. Even if he only comes in for 5 or 10 minutes his first time out, that's one big step closer to getting him back on the court for 25 per game.
- If Robin can make it back in this series, the Spurs are going to have a really hard time. In his first match-up with Tim he got torched in single coverage, but Robin is a smart guy and will get better with more reps. If nothing else, he gives some hard fouls and a different look. He can also patrol the paint and help on the glass. Then if by Games 6 or 7, he can start running the pick and roll and again and get some of those fancy lobs from Steve...watch out. There is no question in my mind that with a healthy Robin Lopez, the Suns will win this series and the signs seem to be moving in that direction.
- Gentry said he received a case of
winwine from Gregg Popovich's vineyard in Oregon. He said the note basically said, let's go kick each other's ass. Those guys are friends from when Gentry was on the Spurs staff. Alvin quipped that he was going to return the favor by sending Pop a bottle of Boons Farm.
- Nash didn't practice again today, but no one seems the least bit concerned about him playing well in Game 1.
Keys to the Series
Attack Tim Duncan - Tim is a great low post defender and a great help defender, but is not as good anymore defending the pick and roll out on the floor. Against the Mavs, he was a the perfect guy to check Haywood's low post game. The Suns aren't reliant on getting their points in the paint in a way that plays into his strengths.
The Suns need to pull Duncan out of the paint and run the pick and roll right at him anytime he guards Amare (which won't be much). Without Robin, the other option is Frye who will more likely run a pick and pop but can still effectively pull Tim from the paint and make him move his feet as much as possible. Anything to keep him from resting on that end of the floor.
Attack with Rim - Tim Duncan is the only shot blocker the Spurs have. We saw how effective LB and Goran were with the second unit with their dribble penetration and they should be even more so against the Spurs. We say how speedy little Roddy Beaubois was able to penetrate and score with relative ease.
The Suns second unit, especially, needs to keep the pressure on at all times. Attack quickly and aggressively and get into the paint. The Suns can't let the Spurs rest at all during these games. Even if the shots aren't falling, keep attacking and wear them down.
Take What they Give - Historically, the Spurs have defended the three point line well and used their bigs to protect the rim and in the process were willing to give up mid-range shots. This Spurs team still allowed the fewest three-point attempts in the league during the regular season but they no long have the same depth on their front line and Duncan is getting older.
Amare should have a field day attacking the rim and drawing fouls out of isolations or pick and rolls and Jason, Grant, Goran, Steve and LB can all hit the mid-range shots if the defense sags off.
Post-up Game - Amare isn't the Suns' only post-up player. When the Spurs go small, which they do a lot, either Jason Rich or Grant Hill can back down their smaller defenders. With Amare and Frye on the floor the Suns can create space in the paint for those guys to work against Manu Ginobili or Tony Parker. The added bonus is that the Suns will be in good position to retreat on defense from this set which will be important.
All year the Suns have made teams pay for putting their better wing defenders on Nash and trying to hide a point guard on one of the Phoenix wings. In this series it will be even more important. Anytime the Spurs try and slow Nash by putting George on him, that will leave Parker matched up against a much bigger player. The Suns can and should exploit this mismatch.
"Sure, we've got big guards and we try and take advantage when we have mismatches," explained Alvin Gentry.
Transition - I think the number one priority for the Suns defense is going to be stopping Parker and Hill in transition. That might mean being a little less aggressive on the offensive glass. Against the Blazers, the Suns could afford to send five guys after their misses because the Blazers weren't going to run when they did get the loose ball. The Spurs will look to attack and we all know that it takes a small village to stop Parker in the open floor.
The Spurs offense in the half court is good, but I don't think they can win without also getting around 15 points out of their transition game.
Tim Duncan - Tim is still Tim and coming into Game 1, he's going to be well rested and will probably have a great game. But as seen in their last series, he wore down as things progressed and his shooting dropped from 60% to 30%. The same thing will happen over the course of the game so play him straight up and make him be the primary scorer. Not only will that make him work more early, but it keeps the other guys from getting hot from anywhere else.
Then if you need to late in the game, bring the double team or even a zone and make them beat you from somewhere else.
Pick and Roll - The Spurs use the pick and roll a lot differently than the Suns. Mostly it's just a way for Parker or Manu to run a defender off a screen and get into the lane. The Suns bigs have to aggressively show and stop the ball giving the guard time to come under and help stop the penetration.
Weak side rotation to cover the roll man is important, but the Spurs only look to hit the rolling big about have as often as the Suns do and while Duncan can covert when left open, he will pass out if there's a defender between he and basket (unlike Amare who can still catch the pass, side-step the weak side help and finish).
When Manu is running it, you can cheat off Parker and leave him open a bit since he's not a good three point shooter. When Parker is running it, you have to pay a bit more attention to Manu on the wing and bring help from somewhere else (usually the 4).
Rebounding - The Spurs got out-rebounded in their first round series by the Mavs who, while big, are not a good rebounding team. They get good glass work from Duncan (duh) and also McDyess and Blair in his limited minutes. The Spurs wings and guards don't rebound at all. Once again, the Suns can win this battle by keeping a body on Tim and trusting Jason and Grant to lead the charge.
- The Spurs will limit the Suns three-point opportunities which means that Jason Richardson isn't likely to see the open looks he did in round 1. He knows this and talked about needing to find other ways to get open, which means mostly transition but also running off curls and post ups. Without as many threes, can the Suns still score enough points?
- With Amare and Frye on the court together, the Spurs are going to have a tough choice on where to play Duncan. If Frye pulls him all the way out of the paint, it will limit his shot blocking and rebounding; if he plays Amare, there's a good chance STAT can hang some early fouls on him. It will be interesting to see what Pop does with this.
- Steve's hip (or back, shoulder, etc). This Suns team is far less reliant on Steve Nash than in years past, as we saw in Game 6 when he played horrible (except for the late clutch three). The Suns were still able to move the ball and at times were happy to let Grant or Jason advance it up court and initiate the offense and Dragic has played solid minutes all year and team doesn't lose confidence when he's on the court. This particular injury seems more to impede his mobility than his shot so if he is still bothered by it, one would hope he would play off the ball more as opposed to turning it over 7 times. Can Steve stay healthy for this series and if not, can the Suns still get it done?
- Tim's stamina. Seeing how he declined in the first round, one has to wonder if Duncan can handle the every-other-day schedule. They are asking him to play big minutes and have no depth behind him. Can Tim hold up for another grueling playoff round where he's frequently asked to play 40+ minutes?
Richard Jefferson is the Spurs X-factor. When he scores around 18 points, they almost always win. I have no idea what it takes for him to get going, but the Suns can't forget about him. Can R Jeff finally show up and provide consistent offense?