Keys to Beating the Spurs

 

The Suns need to maintain a poised aggression throughout the playoff series with the Spurs.
(NBAE Photos)

Anyone can beat anyone. There will be no upsets, because I’m not sure who should be favored in any of these series. Under normal circumstances, winning 55 games would have gotten us a top 3 seed and a favorable matchup in the first round. This year – it’s the world champion Spurs right out of the gates.

I guess the way to look at this series is this: we knew we’d have to get through San Antonio at some point, so we might as well try to do it right away. We’re playing well, we’re healthy, and the memory of our recent win in San Antonio is fresh in our minds. We know we have to win at least one game in San Antonio to win the series, so our 2-0 record there in the regular season is a confidence booster.

Of course, the playoffs are not the regular season – particularly when you’re playing against the champs. The Spurs are well coached, extremely tough defensively and balanced offensively. They have seen everything there is to see in the world of NBA basketball. And most of all, they have a ton of pride. This is a team that will fight til the last second. [Read more...]

Playoff Cheat Sheet… Anyone Have One?

Amare Stoudemire is doing his part to help the Suns win the rest of their games and gain home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
(NBAE Photos)
  

 

There is no love lost between me and the numbers game, which makes this
final week of the NBA regular season a real terror for those of us who
dread the “yeah, but what if” discussions this time of year.

I can handle simple addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Percentages are somehow no problem, either. Sure, I never met a calculator I didn’t like (or use), but when it comes to permutations – calculating the possible combinations of anything – well, no device in existence could help me keep straight every possible scenario that the impending NBA postseason poses, especially where the Suns are concerned currently.

I know seeding has something to do with conference records. And home-court advantage in a playoff series is determined by win-loss records, and not seeding.

Okay, so far.

But thanks to the playoff logjam that is the Western Conference, that’s where my personal headaches begin.

“It’s crazy right now,” said Amaré Stoudemire after Monday’s win over Golden State. “Every team is playing well. There are four teams vying for the same record. The West is as tight as I’ve ever seen it. It’s good for the fans, but it’s pretty tough for us. Whatever happens, it’s going to be a tough Western Conference team we face in the playoffs. You just have to prepare yourselves as a team, get better and accept the challenge.” [Read more...]

Suns Win But Still No Closer to Knowing First Round Opponent

The guest list for the Big Dance, NBA version, is finally complete. But exactly who will dance with whom and where in the West is still as undecided with only two days to go in the season as it was two months ago.

Shaquille O’Neal grabs a rebound against the Warriors on Monday night.
(NBAE Photos)
 

 

 

The Suns’ victory over the Warriors did lock idle Denver into the eighth spot, but NONE of the positions of the other seven are written in stone. Not One!

With the Big Picture so fuzzy, the plan here is to focus on the small picture — namely last night’s game. Mind you, it’s a little snowy too, but compared to the playoff picture it’s High Definition TV.

Early on in this game the Suns looked very much like a team that was ready for the playoffs, and the Warriors looked like a team that was already on vacation — showing little interest in passing and none in defense, and about as much emotion as a box of doorknobs.

It’s one thing to mail a game in, but it’s bad form to not even bother to put a stamp on it. And although they were still mathematically alive in the playoff hunt the Warriors played like they knew they were dead men walking.

But the Suns had another one of their patented 12-minute lapses of concentration in the third period and dragged the Warriors back into the game by the seat of their disinterested pants.

With their main man, Baron Davis benched, either because of lack of interest, 2 for 13 shooting in the first half, or fatigue, the Warriors went on a 38-19 run that propelled them into a lead that would grow to 11 points..

Fortunately, they still had nobody who could cover Amare, even a less than 100 percent Amare. The best they could do was foul him and he hit 7 of 9 free throws and scored 11 his 28 points to lead the charge. Leandro Barbosa sealed the deal with a three-point shot and then another basket, plus a key offensive rebound in the last two minutes.

“Well, we won,” said Coach Mike. “And I thought we looked really sharp at the end.”

That about sums up the good news. The potential bad news concerns Grant Hill, who left in the second period with a groin injury. It was not, for now at least, believed to be serious, but Coach Mike indicated Hill might be held out of practice Tuesday and Wednesday’s game here against Portland, adding he expects him to ready for Game One of the playoffs this weekend.

The other area for concern has to be turnovers. The Suns have broken out in a rash of ugly ones in recent games, and that Golden State outburst in the third period was fueled in no small part by seven of them.

But the bottom line: Not to worry. I have no idea who or where the Suns will play in the first round, but I like their chances going in as good as anybody’s. Maybe even just a tiny, tiny bit better. (The operative word there being “maybe”).

One reason for this confidence is that while the midcourse correction that brought Shaq here probably cost them top seed, it without question made them more playoff-worthy. The other reason is there is no 900-pound gorilla out there in the West. Just four or five 400-pound ones.

Memphis Mania and Why I Hate the Spurs

In case you can’t tell from my previous blogs (or the career path I’ve chosen), I am a huge sports fan. My love of sports is what got me into television.

There are many reasons Bob doesn’t like the Spurs – their record against the Suns being the biggest.
(NBAE Photos)

The summer between 7th and 8th grade I was watching one of many Cubs games on WGN and the thought occurred to me that someone, somewhere was getting paid to watch the game I was watching. At that time I had no idea what the role of a producer or director was, but I knew that it would be a pretty good gig to be paid for doing what I already liked to do.

Monday night I got to experience the wildly entertaining NCAA championship game with a sports bar full of hard-core Memphis fans. Every Tigers basket was followed with thunderous applause, each near miss with “ooohs” and “ahhhs”. As their team stretched the lead to 9 with just over 2 minutes remaining, the noise was deafening. The crowd cheered through entire timeouts, passing around high fives and hugs – their team was so close to the ultimate prize they could taste it. You know what happened next. Kansas hit a few shots, the rim shrunk on the Memphis end (just ask Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts) and the rest was history. As the CBS broadcast went to commercial break at the end of regulation after the miracle 3-point field goal from Kansas, I could hear Jim Nantz’s voice for the first time since I’d joined this crowd. The previously raucous bar was as quiet as an oncologist’s waiting room. After the game, the crowd filed out as if leaving a funeral. [Read more...]

Suns Hitting Their Stride

What do you get on a night when a very good home team that can’t do anything wrong meets a very bad road team that can’t do anything?

Very deceiving results. I mean, there’s no way this one was as close as that 117-88 score indicates.

Now I realize that beating the T-Wolves any place beyond the Minneapolis city limits is not exactly like beating a leopard in a tree, but even when you get past that disclaimer you have to be very impressed with how many levels the Suns have raised their game in the last few weeks (or even raised themselves from the dead if you listened to the way some folks were talking during the period of adjustment)..

Offense, defense, rebounding, chemistry, body language, you name it. And bear in mind the Suns weren’t exactly chopped liver BEFORE The Trade transformed this into the strongest playoff-type team in the Mike D’Antoni era.

Even those of us who climbed out on a limb (actually more like a strong branch) and proclaimed the acquisition of Shaquille O’Neal was a great one never dared suggest The Big Difference would make THIS much difference.

It’s not all Shaq by any means, of course. It’s also a matter of Raja Bell getting healthy, Boris Diaw taking fewer naps during games, Amare going from All World to Other Worldly, Steve Nash playing back to his MVP form, and even the overlooked signing of Gordon Giricek giving Coach Mike another useful piece of the puzzle.

But No. 32 has clearly been the catalyst. And you don’t have to look any further than the four games against the T-Wolves this year to pinpoint statistically what a difference a Shaq makes.

In the three games without him the Wolves beat the Suns half to death on the boards, 153-99, with a lot of that damage being done on the offensive end. But last night the Suns had a 52-39 edge that could have been even greater if Coach Mike hadn’t emptied his bench. (And speaking of that, by the way, the seldom seen back of the bench delivered 15 points).

And it wasn’t just a one-night phenomenon. Since The Trade the Suns have clearly corrected what had been one of their most glaring weaknesses, namely frailty off the glass.

And as I mentioned earlier, they have managed to shore up their weakness, including alleged softness and defense, without sacrificing any of their offense.

And where all teams talk about hitting their stride at the right time (i.e., now), the Suns are walking that talk with a vengeance.

The bottom line: There is every indication the next few weeks will be among the most exciting in franchise history.

Playoff Musings and the 9-Game Road Trip

<“If a tie is like kissing your sister, then losing is like kissing your grandmother with her teeth out.”
- George Brett

 

The Celtics are the team to beat in the east because they have three closers and the Suns can’t double team all of them.
(NBAE Photos)

Tough loss last night in Boston, no doubt about it. After playing the first half to a draw, the Suns came out sloppy in the 3rd quarter (3 turnovers in the first minute plus), shots didn’t fall and the route was on. Having seen both of the Eastern Conference favorites this week, Steve Nash was asked which is the better team. Being the NBA’s version of Switzerland, he said “It’s a toss-up.” I’m not so diplomatic. Boston is the best team in the East. Even though Rip Hamilton didn’t play Monday night and the Pistons have beaten Phoenix twice this season, the Celtics are the team to beat out east.

You hear comments about Kobe Bryant being the best “closer” in the game – a title he has earned through the years with his ability to dominate a game down the stretch at both ends of the floor. Boston has three of those closers. KG, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen can be unstoppable offensive forces and all have the ability to score 20 points in a quarter. Since the NBA only allows five players on the floor at one time, you can’t double team all 3 of them. Garnett and Pierce are equally tough on the defensive end. Adding Sam Cassell to the mix will have its benefits in the playoffs as well – he’s a crafty scorer, clutch shooter and terrific decision-maker. Plus he always plays well in his first year with a team (see 2003-04 Timberwolves and 2005-06 Clippers) before things inevitably go sour. And while the Pistons have some scorers and play fantastic team defense, I can’t shake the memory of them losing to a one man team in the conference finals last year. They had better hope the Cavs fall out of the third seed or they will likely suffer the same fate – LeBron has their number and he knows it. Even more damaging is that they know it. [Read more...]

Having Fun Yet?

 

Shaquille O’Neal has brought the fun back into the Suns’ game – and it’s translating into wins. (NBAE Photos)

Talk radio blared with fans ready to jump off a ledge, internet message boards ran amok with Mike Kryzewski wannabees and even the national media roundly killed the Phoenix front office for making, as one scribe wrote, “the worst trade in pro sports history.” Hmmmmm.

What a difference a couple of weeks can make. The Suns have not just won 7 straight, but have won them in a multitude of impressive ways. They beat the Evil Empire two weeks ago in a playoff-style slugfest that has become the Spurs’ calling card, holding Duncan and Co. to a measly two points over the final 5:30. A few nights later the Suns outran the fastest team in the league, pasting the Warriors with a 10-0 3rd quarter run that Golden State never recovered from. Mixed in with those wins were a couple of boat races that were over by halftime – the Suns led Memphis and Sacramento by 31 points (each) at the intermission. Are you kidding me? I know Memphis is having a rough season, but Sacramento just beat the Lakers in LA and it is unbelievably difficult to post a 30-point lead in the NBA. The players are too good and pro athletes in general have way too much pride to take a beating like that. Saturday’s dismantling of Houston was the latest indication of how good this Suns team can be. The Rockets are fresh off the 2nd longest winning streak in NBA history at 22 games – something none of Jordan’s Chicago, Magic’s LA or Bird’s Boston teams could do – and they looked more like a lottery team against Phoenix than a true title contender. [Read more...]

Send/Receive 2: Kerr Answers Fan E-Mail

Hello again. I want to thank you for all your support, particularly the past month or so since Shaq arrived.

 

Skinner is the Suns’ best shot blocker and can help the team in certain matchups the rest of the season. (NBAE Photos)

The response to the trade has been overwhelmingly positive, and I just want
you to know how much we appreciate your passion for the Suns. We’re doing everything we can to make sure our team is prepared every night and making improvement as we head towards the playoffs.

Thanks also for the emails, of which there have been plenty the past month! The interest in the Suns is at an all time high, and I’m going to do my best to respond to your many inquiries. Keep ‘em coming!

———————————————–

Question: First of all, you were the guy I idolized on the Bulls. Secondly, I was wondering if you have ever considered giving speeches at colleges? I have listened to your interviews over the years and you are a wonderful speaker. I would love to hear you hold lecture or write a book.
– Joseph Henderson, Overland Park, Kansas

Joseph,

Thanks for the compliment – I really appreciate it. Those Bulls teams were special – I was lucky to be a part of NBA history. As for speaking, I have done my share over the years in various forums, but now that I have this job there’s really no time. I’m so busy with the Suns that I’m not doing much public speaking anymore. Plus, when we started our Shaq-era 3-6, I was trying to stay out of the public eye altogether! (I guess it’s safe to go outside again).

———————————————– [Read more...]

Big Cactus is Bringing Energy Back to the Valley

Shaq jumps back onto the court after a dive into the crowd during Sunday afternoon’s win over the Spurs.   (NBAE Photos)

My response was always an honest one. I said I didn’t know whether or not the trade was going to alter our style, but I guaranteed the season was about to be a lot more fun.

The Diesel has since proven me right, bringing an energy to the Valley words just can’t describe. Since his arrival it isn’t just the contests against the Spurs or the Lakers which fans are anticipating, it’s each and every game. But that’s what happens when you’ve got a guy like O’Neal always providing the unexpected.

Before the match-up against the Golden State Warriors, FSN Arizona broadcaster Gary Bender and I talked to Mike D’Antoni in his office about O’Neal – specifically the play against the Spurs which saw him diving into the second row of Section 113. Bender suggested that could be the kind of play that turns around a season and the coach in no way dismissed the possibility.

D’Antoni broke his gaze from the Cavaliers/Wizards game on TV and said, “You know, it really could be.” [Read more...]

Final Analysis

Sometimes we just need to be reminded of things. Sunday’s big win over the Evil Empire was a reminder that the Suns didn’t, in fact, forget how to play like a championship caliber team.

 

Eddie Johnson is able to give expert analysis during games because of his skill in shooting when he played. (NBAE Photos)

And perhaps a reminder that we all should have listened to Mike D’Antoni, Steve Kerr – even Shaq himself – when they said there would be some adjustments necessary to fully incorporate the Big Cactus.

I had another reminder a few nights ago as we began the 4th quarter of a home game against the 76ers. During the preceding timeout the Gorilla squad had inadvertently ripped the net off one of the hoops. There was a short delay as U.S. Airways Center engineers quickly replaced the net. Eddie Johnson immediately told Gary Bender and all the viewers watching FSN Arizona that he hated when a net had to be replaced during a game. Since the net would take a little while to get stretched out to its usual size, EJ said that the rim always looked smaller and it became a psychological detriment to any shooters on the floor. Phoenix went scoreless for the first 3 minutes and made a total of 3 FGs over the first 9 minutes of the quarter. Who else but a shooter (and were there any better?) would offer that nugget of insight? It was another example of the expert analysis Suns fans receive every night from the duo of Eddie Johnson and Dan Majerle.

Having worked in sports television for over 18 years, I’ve crossed paths with countless announcers. One thing I’ve noticed over that time is that you can learn a lot about someone by how their peers react toward them. I call it the RQ – Respect Quotient. Wherever Dan and EJ go with the Suns, they are universally respected for their knowledge of the game, the tenacious style they both brought to the court and, yes, even the fact that they are really genuine human beings. The only analyst I’ve worked with that comes close to the RQ of Dan and EJ is former Chicago Bears defensive back Doug Plank. His goes beyond respect, though. I think guys that played against Doug still avoid him as if they think he might drop them in the lobby of a hotel or stadium press box. [Read more...]