Suns vs. Spurs Series Preview

Compared to the Suns the Spurs are boring. B-O-R-I-N-G. I'm sorry Spurs fans, there's no point in arguing the public's perception of offense vs. defense, of violence vs. intrigue, of lust vs. longing. Excitement and boredom are simply words used to describe what activities win and lose the ubiquitous and interminable popularity contest.

"Compared to the Suns the Spurs are boring" is just another way of saying that 90% of non-partial sports fans will be rooting for the Suns. Bill Simmons, who, consciously or otherwise, tries to find the voice of the "everyman" (more specifically the "everysportsfan"), sums up the public's feelings regarding the seeming inevitability, due to the Mavericks' unraveling, of the Spurs making the finals:

For all intents and purposes, you can put a fork in the 2007 NBA playoffs.

I know it should not bother me, but I don't like the fact that my favorite professional sports team is looked upon as being the party pooper, the Debbie Downer, the turd in the punch bowl. And the lesser parts of me wish the Spurs played more like the Suns; unrelentingly fast, without regret, without analysis, without contemplation. Pure compulsion, careless abandon.

The Suns are a basketball team that has been left to their own devices. They focus on the easy part of the game, the fun part of the game. The soul of their team, Steve Nash, is arguably the most effective offensive player in the game today as well as one of the worst defensive guards, to the point the Suns are forced to hide him half the time he's on the court. That half being the defensive half, of course, where the Suns' mantra is, well, "don't foul?"

The efficacy of the Suns defense depends on the mental weakness of their opponent. In the ability to bait them into playing the up and down style the Suns thrive at. Oh, take that first open shot. It's much easier this way. We'll have so much fun. Here, have another drink...

It's such a quixotic, idyllic notion. Direct your efforts at what's easy and fun and you'll come out on top. It's no wonder the Suns' style of play is so popular with the everyman. Who wouldn't want to believe life is that easy? That directing your efforts wherever your whims and fancies take you will lead to success and, oh God, happiness!

But I know that approach rarely, if ever, works. And so do the Spurs. And this realization, that succeeding takes consistent effort at every facet of the game; that winning, due to it's very nature, is hard, is why the general sports fan dislikes the Spurs. They're a reminder of what we're all trying to escape: the idea that happiness, fulfillment, love and the Good Things in Life take effort and commitment. You will not find them down the easy path...

And the Spurs will work ceaselessly on both ends of the court to make the Suns' path as difficult as possible. As in 2005, the Spurs primary defensive goal will be to limit transition baskets. At this level of competition, limiting transition baskets is mainly a function of effort and discipline, the two exact fundamental tenets of Spurs defense.

The secondary goal will be to limit the Suns 3P attempts. In 2005 the Suns scored 26.4% of their points on made 3P (highest in the league), attempting 24.7 per game. This year the numbers changed to 26.1% (second in the league behind HOU's 26.6%) on 24.0 attempts. In 2005 the Spurs led the league in limiting 3PA, allowing only 10.7. This year the Spurs are second, allowing 13.4 3PA. The Spurs attack the 3P line on defense more aggressively than any other team in the NBA.

The Spurs are extremely good at taking away the Suns two primary offensive styles, and it obviously causes them difficulties.

Pop also brought out a new wrinkle during the April 5th meeting, putting Bowen on Nash down the stretch. His physicality and excellent pick and roll defense bothered Nash considerably. I think it's worth noting that typically Nash guards Bowen while Barbosa guards Parker, and this lack of cross-matching facilitates quality transition defense.

Amare threw up huge numbers against the Spurs in 2005, and though I mean no disrespect to Stoudemire's sometimes frightening abilities, it was at least partially by design. They never once double-teamed him and were content winning games where he scored 40+ points. Look for the Spurs to double-team him often if his scoring becomes a real problem (i.e., prevents the Spurs from winning).

On offense the Spurs will pound the ball into Duncan. At some point the Suns will be forced to go to Kurt Thomas, whose positive defensive reputation is due largely to playing most of his career in the Eastern Conference and now backing up the likes of Stoudemire.

Parker and Ginobili will do a lot of attacking from the perimeter. Raja Bell, who undoubtedly at some point every game will get tangled up with Manu, is a quality perimeter defender they lacked in 2005. But the Suns still do not have a true inside presence like Camby or Rasheed/Ben Wallace, and I look for the Spurs (Tony especially) to take advantage.

Lastly, the Spurs will push the ball when prudent. Not all the time. Not when PHX wants them to. Only when it's most likely to increase the Spurs' chances of winning. Kenny Smith calls it "controlling the tempo." The Spurs call it "just another part of winning."

San Antonio in 6.

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