The Western Conference semi-final match up between San Antonio and Phoenix is fraught with familiarity and the results have not been good for the Suns. Over its last five playoff appearances, Phoenix has been ousted by San Antonio four times.
It seems like the one thing the Spurs and Suns agree on is the fact that the new law in the state of Arizona is not something that promotes the ideals of the United States. Suns owner Robert Sarver proposed the idea of wearing the “Los Suns” jerseys but the final decision was left up to his team and by the sounds of it, the team decided it was a “no brainer”. In fact the Spurs wanted to show solidarity in a sense by wearing “Los Spurs” jerseys, but a set of custom jerseys could not be made in time for tip off in Phoenix.
To be truthful, it will all go by the wayside when the game starts and the Spurs try to figure out how to get a handle on the pace of the game. It seemed like they played a bit out of their comfort zone at an accelerated pace in Game 1 which is one of the key elements that needs to be managed. The quickened state of any Suns game entices opponents to play a game that is up and down and takes them out of their game plan. If you’re not careful, you have the wrong players, taking the wrong shots, from the wrong places at the wrong time. And even when those pitfalls are avoided, fatigue and speed of the game cause routine plays and shots to be botched.
San Antonio’s strategy of making Steve Nash a scorer, a commonly-used approach, backfired as Nash did a masterful job of managing the series opener. Captain Canada scored 17 of his 33 points in the first quarter as he came out attacking and then spent the next three quarters getting his teammates involved in the offense. You wonder if Nash has three more 30-point efforts in his body but regardless, he has such a wonderful feel for directing his team’s game plan. The main beneficiary of Nash’s leadership is Jason Richardson. When Richardson scored 20 or more in the regular season, Phoenix posted a 30-4 record and it hasn’t changed much in the playoffs. In wins, “J-Rich” is scoring at a 27.8-ppg clip and in losses, he is held to a meager average of 14.5 ppg. So Nash is not the only worry for the Spurs.
Richard Jefferson is still a wild card for the Spurs as he has display some consistency. He was invisible in Game 1 with only three shot attempts in 33 minutes. The other “X” factor for San Antonio is George Hill. The young point man was splendid in the series against Dallas but you wonder if he can perform the same way and what his confidence level will be if head coach Gregg Popovich makes a move and takes him out of the starting line-up or reduces his minutes significantly.
The Lakers length on the front line is presenting all kinds of issues for the Utah Jazz and here is mind-boggling number. When Phil Jackson’s team’s win the first game of the series, they are 45-0. Hmmm, wonder if the Utah Jazz will be the team to break that trend? Don’t think so. It sounds like Andrei Kirilenko is planning to return for Game 3, but having not played since March 12th, it is unlikely he will be able to get back up to speed to be much help.
Well it finally happened in Chicago as the Bulls fired head coach Vinny Del Negro. It will be interesting to see who takes over a young and promising squad in Chicago. Not that Del Negro did a bad job, getting them to the playoffs in both his seasons on the bench. Kentucky head coach John Calipari, who had a stint as an NBA head coach with the New Jersey Nets has been one of the early candidates mentioned as a replacement.
For all but eight teams, its time to start looking toward the NBA draft and free agency and with that in mind you can bet there will be many keen eyes focused on then NBA Draft Combine Thursday May 20, and Friday May 21 in Chicago. Some players are already planning their workout schedules and it sounds like Syracuse guard and Canadian National Team member Andy Rautins will be working out in Detroit and Miami next week.