That's been the longest three days of the season.
Since beating the
tar green jello out of the Jazz in Salt Lake Wednesday (something that seems to be the norm right now for that injury riddled team), Planet Orange has been aglow with excitement. We welcomed in new friends, we broke down the numbers, we've looked at the history, the roster match-ups, Amare's playoff beasting and we made our predictions...and now, finally, it is time to GET IT ON!
But before we do, a word of caution about playoff basketball:
1. Brace Yourself For The Deadly Whistles: The officiating this season has been questionable at times. Many people (and not all of them outside observers) have said it's been worse this season than in years past. Even at the best of times, calls are going to get blown and in the playoffs each blown call is a painful body blow to the fans. There's nothing we can really do about this except to prepare for the gut punch and remember that blown calls go both ways and pray that there's not a big blown call that swings a game against us.
2. The Suns Will Lose: At some point, the Suns will lose a game and probably even more than one. I know, right! But it is true. When those losses happen the tendency is to PANIC!!! Don't. At least not until it is proper time to panic which hopefully won't happen but when that time comes, you will know it. That time isn't after one loss. Unless it is a really bad loss or an injury. Anyway, no premature panic please.
3. Fans of the other team will be obnoxious: It is simply a fact of life and of course, we will be obnoxious too. Deal with it, don't feed the trolls (too much) and don't be overly obnoxious in return.
4. There will be blood: Injuries, hard fouls, flagrant fouls and even some scuffles. It's the playoffs, enjoy. Do not freak too much. Just enjoy.
At shoot around this morning the mantra from the Suns was, "It's just another game".
But of course it's not just another game and yet Coach Gentry, who hasn't coached in the playoffs since the Pistons lost in the first round in 1999, sort of insists that it is, "As I said to our guys, I don't understand why everybody makes such a big deal out of it. We've been playing hard the whole year. It's just another game we've got to play hard to win."
He's a bit of a mind-master himself, our Coach Gentry.
He is striking the balance between keeping the Suns focused and humble by stressing how dangerous and good his opponent is; and yet at the same time reminding everyone how good the Suns are and that if they play hard and play the way that won 54 out of 82 games they can beat anyone.
"They are a good basketball team and we're a good basketball game and that's the way it's supposed to be."
Gentry was bit coy about the defensive assignments on Miller but said mostly likely, Nash will start on him. He certainly left the door open for other match-ups as well. I would be shocked if we don't see the Suns use Hill on Andre and move Nash over to a wing player like Webster or even Batum.
Those guys will have a size advantage on Nash but it takes the ball out of Miller's hands at times and makes the Blazers react to the Suns defense.
The Blazers of course, will do the same thing by putting Batum on Nash and switching the pick and roll. In the past that kind of disruption would have have bothered the Suns but this team has seen that all season long and has been much more flexible at attacking those kinds of mis-matches. Especially, when "lesser" or smaller defenders try to cover Grant of Jason - both guys who can score in the post.
Early in the season that kind of defense took the Suns out of their rhythm and slowed the game down but over the middle months there was a period of adjustment where Gentry put more motion sets in the offense and became much more willing to take the ball out of Steve's hands and attack the post.
Don't be surprised if the Suns don't go to the Nash/Amare pick and roll until later in the game.
Gentry called Rudy Fernandez the biggest X factor and expects him to start on the bench so he can provide a punch to the second unit. All signs from Portland are that Rudy will start the game and Webster will come off the bench.
As for the Suns rotations, Gentry had implied recently that his own playoff rotations would tighten but walked that back today. The Suns are very happy with their bench play and will do what they always do which is leave them in if they are going well or sub them out if they are struggling.
The Suns' biggest question coming off the bench right now is Leandro Barbosa. I asked Coach if he thought LB was back in rhythm or if he needed more time, "It's tough. We're using him in the rotation and everything but sometimes it takes a while to get going but you don't have that luxury right now with the depth we have on this team...(Reserves) got to be ready to go when the game starts. That why some guys are very good at being a bench player and some guys struggle with it."
Gentry says he doesn't see anything special with this being only his first time coaching in the playoffs in 10 years. He reminded us that he's only been a head coach two years since that time and that was with the Clippers, "I'll let you guys translate that."
Craig Sager was present (in normal clothes) so Gentry had a little fun at his expense. After Craig said he would be interviewing Gentry after the 3rd quarter, Gentry said by that time he would have a pissy attitude.
Gentry then joke that he would give Sager the "Pop treatment" and went on to ad lib what that would look like.
Gentry pretending to be Sager: "What do you guys have to do to get back in this game?"
Gentry deadpanning a Popovich response: "Play better and make baskets."
After chuckles all around, Alvin ended things with his message of the day, "I told our guys, I swear to you, Craig, this should be fun."
So have fun, dammit! We'll see you in a few hours for an epic Game 1!
Trail Blazers vs Suns coverage
azcentral.com blogs - Coro's Suns dish - PaulCoro - Finally, playoff orange slices
Nash had his personal physiotherapist, Rick Celebrini, in town this week to help prepare him for the playoffs as usual. The difference this time was that Nash was in great shape before Celebrini arrived, unlike when he came in as Nash was battling the abdominal strain and back pain around the All-Star break.
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