|Now the NBA's top seed, Suns prepare to face San Antonio|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 04 May 2007 12:39|
The Dallas Mavericks' stunning first-round loss to Golden State has given the Suns home-court advantage throughout the playoffs because Phoenix's 61-21 regular-season record is best among the remaining clubs.
This isn't the ``prize'' the Suns have had their eyes on all season, as their marketing slogan goes. But it's no small edge for a team that went 33-8 in U.S. Airways during the regular season and has won all three playoff games on its home floor.
Dallas' upset loss has also seemingly raised the stakes for the second-round matchup between the Suns and the San Antonio Spurs, which tips off Sunday at U.S. Airways Center.
``I think it's a Finals-type matchup, but there's still a lot of teams left to play, and a lot of the teams left can create a lot of problems for everyone,'' Phoenix point guard Steve Nash said.
Game 2 will be Tuesday night in Phoenix. The rest of the schedule has not been announced.
The winner of the Suns-Spurs series would meet Golden State, Houston or Utah for a berth in the NBA Finals. Those teams present problems but don't seem as intimidating as the Mavericks, who rolled to a league-best 67-15 record but are now making tee times.
But the Suns know better than to look past the Spurs, who bounced them from the 2005 Western Conference finals in five games.
``This team might be tougher than Dallas, and I've thought that all along,'' Suns guard Raja Bell said.
The Spurs have won 17 of the past 21 games between the clubs, including two of three during the 2006-07 regular season.
``We feel optimistic,'' San Antonio guard Manu Ginobili said. ``We know that we can beat them.''
San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich wasn't interested in the restructured Western Conference bracket.
``Phoenix is a championship-caliber ballclub,'' Popovich said. ``Enough said.''
Both the Suns and the Spurs cruised to five-game victories in the opening round, with Phoenix beating the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio defeating Denver.
As they do with every team, the Suns will try to impose their fast-paced style on the Spurs.
``We've got to get over 100 points,'' Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni said. ``That's going to be a big benchmark. If we score up in the 100s seven times, or how many times the series goes, we've got a heck of a chance of winning.''
The Spurs would prefer to play a half-court game, running their offense through forward Tim Duncan, who is averaging 20.2 points, 10.6 rebounds and 5.4 assists. But they have shown the ability to run with the Suns. In drubbing the Suns in the 2005 playoffs, San Antonio scored more than 100 points in all five games.
``I think you just have to be smart when you run, because we have Timmy and Timmy is going to do a lot of damage inside,'' San Antonio point guard Tony Parker said. ``I think we can run with them a little bit. We just have to do it smart.
``I think we can play both ways, like in '05,'' Parker said. ``When we had to play halfcourt, we played halfcourt. When we had to play fast, we played fast.''
In that series, Suns center Amare Stoudemire held his own against Duncan, averaging 37.0 points, most by a player in his first conference finals.
Before the following season, Stoudemire had knee surgery, and he has only recently returned to his old form. Stoudemire averaged 24.2 points and 13.6 rebounds in the first-round victory over the Lakers.
``I'm more polished than I was in '05, and we're a better team,'' Stoudemire said.
Nash said he expects Stoudemire to play a big role again.
``Hopefully, Amare will get his beauty sleep,'' Nash said with a grin.
But D'Antoni chided reporters seeking to compare this series to the one in 2005. For one thing, the Suns have since added Raja Bell and Kurt Thomas.
``You know, you guys are living in the past,'' D'Antoni said. ``You've got to get to the future.''
The Suns' future will be short if they can't get past the Spurs. With Dallas eliminated, the San Antonio-Phoenix series may feel like the Western Conference finals. But it's only the second round.
``It's the two best teams in the West,'' Stoudemire said. ``It's going to be a series the whole world wants to see.''