In 2005 and 2007, the San Antonio Spurs had to defeat the Phoenix Suns en route to an NBA Championship.
2008 will pose the same challenge for San Antonio, this time in the opening round.
The Spurs and Suns have essentially maintained the same styles of play over the course of the recent season. The Spurs rely on defense first and try to shut down the opposition’s top scorer.
On the other hand, the Suns attempt to outrun and outscore anybody who steps out on the hardwood against them.
The Spurs have traditionally been tough at home, with the support of their loyal fans infusing life into a team with many veteran players. This home court advantage will play an even bigger role in this first series as the Spurs have struggled on the road in the 2007-2008 campaign.
The Spurs were able to beat the Suns at their own game in 2005 and 2007, and will likely have to do so again to get past Phoenix.
With Steve Nash, Shaq, Amare Stoudemire, Leandro Barbosa, Grant Hill, and Boris Diaw, the Suns have plenty of guys who can put the ball in the basket and cannot rely on their top defenders—Duncan, Bowen, Ginobili, and Parker—to do the job every trip down the court.
For the Spurs to win, not only must they outperform one of the league’s top offenses, but they must get past the opening round jitters that have crept up in their prior championship runs.
This time the Spurs are not playing a number eight seed and are not going to have it any easier the rest of the way.
The Spurs also have to hope that Manu Ginobili is healthy enough to run up and down the floor for seven games if they want to advance. Strong guard play is essential for any top playoff team, and when Ginobili has been the top scorer for the Spurs, they generally win.
Despite these challenges for the Spurs, they should still be able to win this series.
Phoenix will probably win the first game, running circles around San Antonio, and Gregg Popovich will blow a gasket in the locker room.
The Spurs will come out fired up in the second game and shut down Phoenix’s offense.
The teams will then probably split the next two games in Phoenix, leaving it to the last three games. The Spurs will win game five at home and will then lose a close game six in Phoenix.
However, a slowed down Shaq, a fatigued Grant Hill, and a frustrated Steve Nash will come up short in game seven in San Antonio with the crowd at the AT&T Center drowning out any ability for Mike D’Antoni to coach his team.