After calling the Suns matchup against the Mavs in Phoenix on March 10 the “Super Bowl,” Grant Hill upped the ante by referring to this Sunday’s showdown against the Mavs as the “World Cup.”
Self-admittedly using the soccer reference to draw the attention and interest of fellow co-captain Steve Nash, Hill knows that Sunday’s game in Dallas is for all intensive purposes… the season.
With the Suns trailing the Mavs by three games in the Western Conference playoff race, they can make up one full game of ground on Dallas, while also giving themselves the tiebreaker if they should finish the season tied with the Mavs.
“The goal that Alvin (Coach Gentry) set out a couple weeks ago was when we go to Dallas to have that game mean something,” Hill said.
Again, Hill reverted back to the soccer reference.
“This is Italy going to France playing on their court for the World Cup,” he said.
Inspired by the moment, Hill then started jumbling his sports analogies.
“It’s do-or-die,” he said. “It’s match play (golf reference?) for the World Cup.”
But he had the right spirit.
“It’s sudden death,” he continued. “You gotta bring it. You don’t want to get into playing kicks.”
Hill claims that the team that Dallas will be facing Sunday is much different than the team it squared off against on March 10.
“We’re playing better ball coming off the heels of that road trip,” he noted. “We kind of got out of rhythm, didn’t play well and sort of forgot how to win close games. I think we have a better rhythm and balance out there now.”
The Duke graduate is right. The Suns have knocked off three solid playoff teams since that meeting. Utah, Denver and Houston have all lost to Phoenix since that last contest. More importantly, in all three of those games, the Suns were also able to overcome deficits to win.
“Utah, Houston and Denver were games for us to get those wins in close games where we needed to execute on both ends of the court down the stretch,” he said. “It gets your confidence back as a team and most importantly you remember how to win.”
Shaq believes that the key to the game is containing Mavs forward Dirk Nowitzki, who erupted for 34 points and 13 rebounds in Dallas’ 122-117 win over Phoenix on March 10.
“You really can’t block his shot,” O’Neal said. “You have to make him play defense and you have to make him work for every shot. Matt (Barnes) and those guys have to go back at him.”
If the Suns contain Nowitzki, the Mavs may not have enough firepower to stay with Phoenix’s up-tempo style. Josh Howard, who averages 18 points a game, sat out Friday’s loss against Memphis with a sore ankle that caused him to miss 11 games. In addition, Howard aggravated a left wrist injury when he took a charge in the Mavs’ win over Miami on Wednesday.
Even better news for the Suns is that Jason Kidd, who was 4-of-8 from downtown against the Suns on March 10, has been struggling with his shot lately. Kidd is 20-of-64 in his last nine games and hasn’t scored in double figures in the last five.
So as this “World Cup Final” approaches, it appears that there’s still a sliver of hope for the Suns. And even though Dallas is at home, one Suns player seems more than prepared for the World Cup-like atmosphere Dallas will offer.
“For Steve this will feel like a home game,” Hill said about Nash.