|Suns ready to take on Spurs in first round of playoffs|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 17 April 2008 13:37|
They probably didn't need to. The Suns are almost too familiar with the Spurs, who have eliminated them in three of their last four postseason appearances.
The sixth-seeded Suns and third-seeded Spurs will renew their rivalry in Game 1 in San Antonio on Saturday afternoon. Game 2 is set for Tuesday, and the best-of-seven series shifts to the desert on April 25.
``You know how they're going to play,'' coach Mike D'Antoni said after a brief Suns workout at US Airways Center. ``There's no secrets out there. We'll have to make little adjustments, but we know what they want to do. They know what we want to do. We'll just see who does it the best.''
The Suns know all about San Antonio stars Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. But the Suns will present a different look this year.
Phoenix acquired 7-foot-1 Shaquille O'Neal, a four-time NBA champion and three-time NBA finals MVP, specifically for series such as this one. The Suns wanted to shore up their inside game, which has long been exploited by Duncan and the bigger, more physical Spurs.
``If it doesn't work in the first round, then we'll have to go back to the drawing board next year,'' point guard Steve Nash said. ``But we feel good. We feel like he's been a huge addition to our team. We feel like he's been strong where we were weak traditionally, and we feel like that's a great addition.''
The Suns swept two regular-season games from San Antonio with Shaq in the lineup, and they took three out of four overall.
The Suns have also added veteran forward Grant Hill, who missed the regular season finale with a groin injury. D'Antoni said he thought Hill would be available for Game 1.
Phoenix is 18-11 since O'Neal's debut. He arrived Feb. 6 in the trade that sent longtime Suns star Shawn Marion to Miami.
O'Neal knows that he'll be in the spotlight when the series begins, but he doesn't view this series as a special challenge.
``Every game is a challenge,'' said O'Neal, who is averaging 12.9 points and 10.6 rebounds per game with the Suns. ``Every postseason is a challenge. I've been programmed to handle any challenge. This is not anything that I haven't seen before. We've just got to go out and play. There's nothing to it.''
O'Neal and Amare Stoudemire will take turns guarding Duncan, who has presented match-up problems for the Suns.
``You're not going to stop the guy, especially when he gets going,'' O'Neal said. ``You've just got to try to stay in front of him and just try to make him make a tough shot.''
On the offensive end, O'Neal will make it harder for the Spurs to double-team Stoudemire, who averaged 37 points per game against San Antonio in the 2005 Western Conference.
``I see a 325-pound beast inside, and we're going to give him the ball and they've got to deal with it,'' D'Antoni said.
``It definitely helps to have a big guy in the middle,'' Nash said.
The Suns could have used O'Neal in their previous playoff confrontations with San Antonio. The Spurs beat the Suns in six games in 2003 and needed only five games to eliminate Phoenix in 2005.
But last year's six-game defeat in the second round still rankles the Suns and their fans.
Phoenix was on its way to a dramatic Game 4 victory in San Antonio when Robert Horry sent Nash flying into the scorer's table. During the ensuing skirmish, Stoudemire and Boris Diaw left the bench, drawing one-game suspensions. Horry, a reserve, was suspended for two games.
The Spurs won Game 5 in Phoenix and closed out the series at home.
D'Antoni said last year's bitter experience won't serve as motivation this spring.
``You're still going to hate them,'' D'Antoni said. ``You still have a scar there. But if we were playing New Orleans, you would hate them too. Competition overrides everything.''