The Suns are in a dark place right now, but it can always get worse. They are 0-3 on this important road trip and the last thing you want to do right now is face the team that has always found the most
painful efficient ways to beat you.
The last time we lost to the Spurs, Stan encouraged us to move beyond hating them and just accept the fact that they are better than the Suns. He also used a very good analogy explaining how The Spurs were like the big brother who always beat you on the court because he was stronger and bigger than you. Although I understood this, I couldn't relate to it because I'm an only child, so here's one of my own.
Back when I was in third grade, I was really small for a kid my age. Being shy didn't help either. There was this kid named Christopher (I'll never forget his name) in my class, who would always pick on me and bully me around. There was nothing I could do to stop him. I ran, he caught me. I hit him, he knocked the lights out of me. I told the teachers, he hit me even harder. He always seemed to be a step ahead of me. Once I realized I was on my own, I decided to take extreme measures. No, I didn't get a gun (although that's probably what a kid would do nowadays) I enrolled in karate classes and I was determined to beat the kid up. Long story short, I grew up to be just about his size and in fifth grade I provoked the fight. I hit him first, he didn't even flinch. I panicked and froze on the spot and he beat the crap out of me yet again.
Later I realized that, at the first sign of adversity during the fight, I remembered all of the times he had beaten me up and that's why fear took over me and I couldn't react. Although I felt I was better prepared for a fight, my mind (fear) betrayed me.
Having said this, I'm not suggesting that the Spurs are bullies. Aside from Bowen -who has a very limited role this year- most of their players are not dirty. Sure they will flop from time to time but who doesn't?. They are disciplined, they have an awesome coach and they are proven champions. But the truth is that they have beaten the Suns so many times that they are in the Suns' player's heads. They panic at the first sign of adversity during the game, they whine about the refs, they don't execute in crunch time. How many times have we seen the Suns enter the 4th quarter with a comfortable lead only to give it back and let the game slip away?
What's the difference between these two teams? Mental. Toughness.
While the Spurs mentality is that they can overcome any problems during the game, the Suns shrink in big moments at the first sign of trouble. It's not that the Suns don't have heart, or that they don't want it as much as the Spurs do, they are betrayed by their collective fear to lose against San Antonio *again*, just like I did when I faced that kid. At least that's what I think.
Enough of my stories, let's focus on how the Suns can win this game.
Attitude: The Suns still have time to turn things around. Basketball is a crazy game and a win against your nemesis should do wonders. Problem is, they could have turned things around after beating the Lakers. Well here's one more shot. They have to play with energy and the sense of urgency that this game deserves. They have to go after every loose ball, every offensive rebound. Treat this like a playoff game. Treat this game like it's your last shot.
Control pace: Besides watching his players standing around on a defensive sequence, there's nothing else that pisses Popovich off more than watching his team play in the opposing team's pace. Especially the Suns. We need to run when we can and give Shaq enough touches to wear out Tim Duncan or however is guarding him.
Perimeter Defense: This are no the same Spurs that we have faced in the past. We can't let them take uncontested shots. Matt Bonner and Roger Mason are a serious threat from behind the three point line. If Duncan is having a bad game, you can count on these two to pick up the slack. Pop has being able establish a very effective inside-out game, spreading the floor with dangerous shooters.
Point Guard matchups: Tony Parker outruns anyone in this league and I don't expect Nash to stop him. What I do expect from Nash it at least putting some resistance and not standing around ala Stoudemire. He needs to get everyone involved and limit his turnovers. In the last few games he has been scoring a lot but at the same time he's getting torched by opposing guards. He has also shown problems giving the ball to Shaq. This is a very fixable issue: Let Hill or LB give the ball to the big fellow and play Nash off the ball. This is up to the coaching staff to come up with a play that sets up a shot for Nash in case Shaq is double teamed or can't shoot a high percentage shot.
Shaq vs Duncan: Tim is a great defender, Shaq will have to bring his A-game if we want to have a shot at winning this game. In order for him to be relevant, he needs to get his touches (Are you reading this Steve?) limit his turnovers and stay out of foul trouble.
Bench Battle: Lou, Barnes and the rest of the bench need to play with energy as well. There's no excuse in letting the Spurs outhustle them when they are on the court. If they get in with a lead, they need to maintain it.
Season is not over guys. I see everyone talking about the lottery and tanking the season. There's still time. Dallas is struggling also. They are as inconsistent as the Suns. I don't care who we play. If we get the 8th seed and play the Lakers so be it. We know that come playoff time, nothing that you did during the regular season matters. They can still turn it around. There's still time. Believe