The Spurs Should Prevail Over The Suns (Again)
Springtime is upon us, so that naturally means the Spurs (7th-seed) must face the Suns (3rd-seed) in the Western Conf. Playoffs.
The Spurs own the Suns in the playoffs and we don't expect that trend to stop this postseason. We feel San Antonio should be considered the favorite even though they're the lower seed. Even with a healthy Robin Lopez available, we would give the Spurs the slight edge.
This year's version of the Suns is very similar to D'Antoni-era teams that pre-dated Shaq. The high-octane offense has returned with the 3pt. shot featured prominently. They don't hoist up quite as many threes as they did under D'Antoni, but still rely heavily on the deep ball.
Different from D'Antoni, Coach Gentry has used a deeper rotation with great results--the Suns are deeper than the Spurs this time around. This is Phoenix's one distinct advantage in this series.
The Suns' bench (Dragic, Dudley, Amundson, Frye, Barbosa) has given Gentry productive minutes all season, and has the ability to tip the series in Phoenix's favor.
The '09-10 Spurs' defense isn't quite as stout as in past years, but still fairly good. And they just have a history of getting the Suns off their game as well as any team.
Spurs are generally successful vs. the Suns because they do two things as well as any team in NBA that just happen to put a major crimp in the Suns' style of play:
1) The Spurs get back in transition as well as any team.
2) The Spurs defend the 3pt. line as well as any team.
The Spurs just don't keep the opposition's 3pt. % low, they limit the number of 3pt. attempts. They have historically done this under Popovich, and continue to do so this year--the Spurs limited their opponent to a league-low 14.6 3pt. attempts per game. Opponents hit 3pts. at a 34.3% clip vs. Spurs (6th-best).
The 19 3PA per game they allowed to the Mavs was more than usual, but they can live with that since the Mavs shot 32.8% from deep in the first round (Mavs shot 37% behind the arc during the season, 5th-best).
The Spurs like to encourage shots in the 10-to-22 ft. range; this has been their M.O. under Coach Pop. They are willing to sacrifice some wide open looks on mid-range jumpers, just as long as 3pt. attempts are kept to a minimum. Make it a goal to hold the Suns to 13-15 3pt. attempts per game.
Often, when a team tries to overplay the 3pt. line, they eventually give up easy looks at the rim. In the past vs. the Suns, the Spurs were so well-schooled defensively, they never got burned bad. The Spurs' baseline rotations were textbook to challenge the dives/rolls of Amare & Marion. The Spurs were able to flood the Suns 3pt. shooters but still hustle to help Duncan at the basket. We'll see if they can pull off similar results this time. If they can't get these backline rotations up to former levels, they likely can't beat Phoenix.
It's not like the Suns are inept in the mid-range--they're actually quite good. According to Hoopdata.com, the Suns are the second-best shooting team in the 10-15 ft. range (44%) and are the third-best in the 16-23 ft. range (41%).
Spurs aren't overly concerned with the Suns' mid-range prowess. The Spurs are more concerned with cutting down the extra point per possession the Suns get from the longball. Cut down their point total, make the Suns have to rely more on their defense and rebounding to win.
Grant Hill is the one player who might be more comfortable pulling up in the mid-range rather than catch-n-shooting from behind the arc. Spurs might even considering laying off Hill if he has deep looks. Grant's the one Sun who the Spurs might live with attempting more threes than mid-rangers.
Phoenix put up 25.5 3pt. attempts per vs. the Blazers, hitting them at a 39% clip. Phoenix averaged 21.6 3PA during the season, draining a league-leading 41% of those 3PA. Expect those shot attempt numbers to drop against the Spurs. Something has to give when these two teams play, and usually, it breaks in San Antonio's favor.
Jason Richardson smoked the Blazers with 23.5 ppg on 53% shooting, doing most of his damage behind the arc--22-for-43 from distance. Not only do I expect his 51% 3pt. shooting to cool off vs. the Spurs, there is little chance J-Rich jacks up seven 3pt. attempts per against the Spurs like he did vs. Portland.
When Channing Frye is on the floor with Amare, think it would be better if Duncan checked Amare. Keep Duncan in a 15 ft. radius of the basket. Allow Amare's looks in the high post.
It's not just the Spurs' defense in transition and on the arc that frustrates the Suns. The Spurs have contained the Suns' top-ranked offenses as well as any team over the last half-decade. Not sure another team consistently does a better job of guarding Nash's ball screens. Imagine Pop will shuffle the likes of Parker, George Hill, Jefferson & Bogans on Nash to try throw off his rhythm.
In the past, the Spurs' offensive strategy vs. the Suns was to expose their poor interior defense. Either constantly calling Duncan's number on the block or having Parker & Manu relentlessly attack the rim. Expect the Spurs to milk Duncan on the block much more than they did vs. Mavs.
The Spurs are clearly the better defensive team, not to mention should have the advantage on the glass. Though, the Spurs struggled on the boards vs. Dallas--outrebounded by 2 rpg.
The Suns surprisingly outrebounded the Blazers by +3.5 per game and hit the offensive glass well (29% Off. Reb Pct.). Spurs were once again a top-notch defensive rebounding unit this year(4th-best), so highly doubt Suns will do as much damage on the off. glass as they did vs. Blazers.
The Suns could not protect their defensive glass in the reg. season (only G-State was worse). Though, the Suns might not be exposed as much as one would expect since the Spurs are adamant about getting back on defense vs. the Suns.
Actually, the poor defensive rebounding really drives down the Suns' overall effectiveness on the defensive end. During the reg. season, Phoenix held their opponents to a respectable 45% from the floor (same as Spurs). A huge key in this series could be if the Suns can protect their defensive glass like they did in the first round or do they revert back to reg. season levels.
Phoenix has been playing better defense the last few months, but with Robin Lopez likely questionable for the series, there is no doubt the Suns' defense is rather suspect.
The Suns did hold the Blazers to only 43% shooting for the series. Thought the Suns doubled & scrambled effectively and were impressive in stretches, especially Hill.
But it's difficult to gauge the true quality of the Suns' defensive chops considering they were playing a limited Blazers team. When Andre Miller is forced to be a key scoring option, your offense is bound to struggle vs. any defense.
The Blazers came close to forcing a seventh game with LaMarcus Aldridge as their primary frontcourt option and Andre Miller as their primary perimeter option. The Spurs have Duncan as their primary frontcourt option and Manu on the perimeter. Kind of an upgrade.
The one thing that gives us pause about picking the Spurs has to be Manu's nose. How much will this injury curtail his game? Don't think it will hamper his activity but a mask might hinder his sightlines.
Have more faith in the Spurs imposing their defensive objectives on the Suns' offense than the Suns' defense doing the same to the Spurs. Though, if Lopez goes, this gap narrows between the defenses.
Spurs are very capable of taking a game on the road, two games if needed. Just dispatched a Mavs team that probably matches up better with them than Suns. Basically, the Spurs remain a bad matchup for the Suns. We're picking SPURS IN 6.