Spurs vs. Suns: an intriguing showdown

Tim Duncan and Amar'e Stoudemire will be key to their teams' success in this series.

The San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns meet in the playoffs once more in what will be a memorable 2010 Western Conference semifinal.

Throughout the decade, this has been one of the finest routine matchups in NBA postseason play. I hesitate to call it a rivalry because, well, the Spurs have continually gotten the better of their Arizona counterparts.

What makes it so great?

For one, there’s an abundance of star power in the pitting of the Spurs’ big three against Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire.

Moreover, it’s the allure of the slow against the fast: the Spurs use every moment of the shot clock they can muster, looking for a shot close to the basket; on the contrary, the Suns look for the first open shot they can get, whether it’s from three feet away or from 25 feet away.

It’s also about the intensity and fierceness of the games. There’s no love lost among these two teams, and the hatred manifests itself in great, hard play.

As I mentioned before, the Spurs have always taken care of the Suns in the end. The Spurs play ferocious, inspired defense (defense wins championships, they say), and they play the percentages in selecting their shots. The Suns, however, rely on making three-pointers to win most of the time.

This year, however, will be the year of the rising Suns. Let me explain:

(1) The Suns have the home-court advantage. While that hasn’t been a problem for the Spurs in the past against Nash and the rest, this year the intangible boost plays a much more integral role. In particular, Channing Fyre shoots much better on his home court than on the road, and he’s a big part of their success with his three-point shooting.

(2) The Spurs have always been able to handle the Suns’ lightning-speed offense with their defense. This year, Duncan and Ginobili are getting to the point where their legs are less reliable. Gregg Popovich characterized what the Spurs will have to do as “super-transition defense.” They may not be able to keep up with Nash, the miracle of health, and the rest of the young, spry bodies. Furthermore, the Spurs are looking to play only eight players or so in their rotation, so they’ll be tired. The Suns go much deeper, so they’ll run their defenders ragged.

(3) The Suns, remarkably, have actually improved their defense this year — especially so far in the playoffs. They’re no longer just a run-and-gun team of shooters. They’re more of a run-and-gun-then-get-back-and-defend team. That will get even better if center Robin Lopez can rejoin the squad for part of the series.

All these factors, combined with a hunger among the roster that has already been satisfied for the Spurs, indicate Phoenix could come away with a series win here. Make sure you tune in.

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