NBA Playoff Preview - Phoenix vs. San Antonio

NBA Playoff Preview - Phoenix vs. San Antonio

NBA Playoff Preview - Phoenix vs. San Antonio
May 3rd, 2007

(Sports Network) - The Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs play for a spot in the Western Conference finals, as they battle in a best-of-seven playoff series.

Phoenix, which won its third straight Pacific Division title during the regular season and is the second seed in the West playoffs, owns the home- court advantage over the third-seeded Spurs.

There is a lot of playoff history between the teams, as this is the eighth time that the clubs have met in the postseason. The Suns defeated San Antonio in the first round in 1992 and 2000 and in the semis in 1993. The Spurs beat Phoenix in the opening round in 1996, 1998 and 2003 and also in the 2005 Western Conference finals.

The Suns have been eliminated in the Western Conference finals two consecutive years. Phoenix lost in five games to the Spurs in 2005, and fell in six last year to the Dallas Mavericks.

In round one, the Suns made it two straight years that they have eliminated Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. All-Star Amare Stoudemire, who did not participate in last year's playoffs because of a knee injury, averaged team- highs in points (24.2 ppg) and rebounds (13.6 rpg) as Phoenix earned a 4-1 series victory over the seventh-seeded Lakers.

Last season, the Lakers blew a 3-1 lead in the first round against Phoenix. Los Angeles fell in seven contests and was eliminated in the opening round for the first time since 1996.

Reigning MVP Steve Nash posted 16.0 points and a team-best 14.0 assists against the Lakers, while Sixth Man of the Year Leandro Barbosa collected 21.2 points per game. All-Star Shawn Marion ended the first-round series with averages of 18.4 points and 10.2 rebounds for the Suns, who are in the postseason for a third straight year.

Phoenix head coach Mike D'Antoni, who made his All-Star coaching debut this year and was the 2004-05 NBA Coach of the Year, continues to allow his club to do what is does best, score. The Suns simply outscored their opponents with their powerful offense. Against San Antonio, D'Antoni will also try to get his club to play some defense.

San Antonio ousted No. 6 Denver in five games. After dropping Game 1 at home, the Spurs took control of the series by winning four in a row, including Games 3 and 4 at the Pepsi Center.

All-Stars Tim Duncan and Tony Parker continue to come up big for the Spurs. Duncan led the team in scoring (20.2 ppg) and rebounding (10.2 rpg), while Parker averaged 18.2 points and a team-best 6.8 assists versus the Nuggets.

Veteran forward Robert Horry, who has six championship rings, once again showed that the playoffs are his time of year, as he made big plays and knocked down clutch shots in round one. Horry averaged 7.8 points and 3.6 boards in about 21 minutes per contest.

Michael Finley and Manu Ginobili also had solid series for the Spurs. who have at least made it to the Western Conference semifinals for a seventh straight year.

The Spurs are appearing in the postseason for the 10th straight year and have won three of the last eight NBA championships. Last season, San Antonio was eliminated in the conference semis by the Dallas Mavericks in seven games.

During the regular season, the Spurs won two of three meetings with the Suns. San Antonio won a pair at the AT&T Center, while Phoenix defeated the Spurs, 103-87, on February 1st at US Airways Center.

FRONTCOURT: Stoudemire, Marion and James Jones will have to work hard on both ends of the court in this series. The athletic Marion can do it all as he is dangerous from the outside and is effective driving to the hoop, while Stoudemire is a force down low and is also able fill a lane when Nash leads the Suns on the break. Jones makes his living from the outside and will only stay on the court if he is hitting his shots.

Duncan is still one of the top forwards in the game, while Francisco Elson, has been serviceable in the middle and Bowen knows his role and takes a lot of pride in his defensive work.

Both teams will try and make the other work very hard for everything they collect on the stat sheet. Duncan and company will have to keep up with the more athletic Suns, while Phoenix will look to contain Duncan and try and make Elson and Bowen beat them.

Stoudemire is a completely healthy and will be very difficult for San Antonio to stop. The Suns athleticism wins out here.

EDGE: SUNS

BACKCOURT: Nash continues to make all of his teammates better, and is the catalyst of the Suns' offense. The Santa Clara product is the best at his job and is on a mission to get his club back to the West Finals and then onto the championship round.

The 6-5 Bell is a hard-nosed player who is not afraid to get his hands dirty. He is Phoenix' best perimeter defender, a solid outside shooter, and like the rest of his teammates has benefited from Nash's unbelievable playmaking ability and mind-boggling passes.

San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich, who has led the Spurs to three NBA championships during his tenure in San Antonio and was named the 2002-2003 NBA Coach of the Year, can switch his starting backcourt from game-to-game. Parker will always be at the point, while Finley, who started all five games against Denver and averaged 16.0 points in the series, or Ginobili are both capable backcourt mates for the All-Star Parker.

Parker has a solid all-around game and fits perfectly into Popovich's style of play. Finley excels in transition and should have another strong series against Phoenix, while Ginobili is very dangerous when his game is on and arguably makes the Spurs a stronger team when he is coming off the bench.

Parker is not an easy matchup for Nash, and Bell will have his hands full with Ginobili and Finley when they are on the court. Should be a great battle.

EDGE: EVEN

BENCH: Barbosa could start for most teams in the league. He can play both guard spots and is effective scoring or dishing the ball to his teammates. The 6-3 Barbosa was clutch against the Lakers, and D'Antoni will need a similar performance from his lightning-quick guard in this round.

Versatile Boris Diaw can play all three spots in the frontcourt for D'Antoni, while veteran big man Kurt Thomas, who averaged 5.0 points and 3.2 boards in about 11 minutes per game in the first round, is a physical low-post player and does his best work around the basket. The 6-8 Diaw, who averaged 7.6 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists versus LA, did not have a great regular season and it would be a huge boost to the Suns if he found his game against San Antonio.

Reserve big man Fabricio Oberto played well against Denver for the Spurs, while Brent Barry, Ginobili, who posted 13.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists in the first round, and the 36-year-old Horry give Popovich some solid options off the bench. The Spurs' general has a lot of flexibility, as all are capable of playing multiple positions.

Both coaches have solid options off the pine. Popovich's veteran bunch of reserves will play more minutes, while Barbosa and Diaw will be D'Antoni's go- to players off the bench.

EDGE: EVEN

PREDICTION: This should be a great series. The Spurs are a veteran team who have experienced what it feels like to win a championship. The Suns have the crafty point guard and the young lions who are ready to show that they can beat the mighty Spurs with their free-wheeling offense.

Nash and the Suns over Duncan and the Spurs in a classic.

SUNS IN SEVEN

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Re: NBA Playoff Preview - Phoenix vs. San Antonio

Betting previews of the NBA's second-round playoff series
Thu, May 3, 2007
By Associated Press

A look at the matchups in the second round of the NBA playoffs, which begin Saturday (with regular-season record, first-round series mark in parentheses):

WESTERN CONFERENCE

No. 2 PHOENIX SUNS (61-21, 4-1) vs. No. 3 SAN ANTONIO SPURS (58-24, 4-1)

Season Series: Spurs, 2-1, with the home team winning each time. Spurs held Amare Stoudemire to 15.5 points per game in their two wins, but he had 24 points and 23 rebounds in the lone Phoenix victory. Tim Duncan averaged 22.7 points and 14 rebounds, and Tony Parker scored 28 points per game. Steve Nash had only seven assists in San Antonio's 92-85 victory last month, one of the Suns' worst offensive performances of the season.

Storyline: With Dallas running away with the league's best record, the teams with the second- and third-best records are forced to meet in a second-round clash of styles. With all-defensive team selections Duncan and Bruce Bowen, San Antonio has the personnel to slow the Suns' league-best offense. The Spurs overpowered Phoenix in five games in the 2005 conference finals, but the Suns want credit for how much their defense has improved - and now is their chance to earn it.

Key matchup I: Stoudemire vs. Duncan. The Spurs couldn't stop Stoudemire in the playoff series two years ago, as he averaged 37 points and scored 42 in Game 5. Duncan and whoever else San Antonio uses this time will surely make things tougher, and the Suns never proved they could contain Duncan at the other end this season.

Key matchup II: Leandro Barbosa vs. Manu Ginobili. A pair of game changers who finished 1-2 in voting for league's sixth man award. Barbosa averaged 21.2 points in the first-round victory over the Lakers, but his speed may be more important this time on the defensive end if Nash struggles to keep up with Parker.

X-factor: Boris Diaw. In a fairly disappointing season for the 2006 Most Improved Player, Diaw scored 16 points in the lone Phoenix win but totaled 10 points on 4-for-17 shooting in the other two games. If San Antonio is successful in keeping it a half-court game, Diaw could have an important role.

Prediction: Suns in 7.

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