Spurs vs. Suns Give and Go Preview

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The Spurs go into the second night of a back-to-back with a load of questions and not many answers. Will Gregg Popovich coach? Will Tim Duncan play? Will Tony Parker play? Did Manu Ginobili suffer a setback last night or was it just rest?

Lots of unknowns heading into tonight’s game. That will all be sorted out in due time. So for now, let’s take a look at the things we do know.

To preview the night’s action, Andrew Lynch, who writes for ESPN TrueHoop Network sites Hardwood Paroxysm and Valley of the Suns, joined me to chat about the Spurs and the Suns.

Andrew McNeill, 48 Minutes of Hell: Let’s talk Spurs-Suns. How did they beat the Clippers on Thursday night?

Andrew Lynch, Hardwood Paroxysm: First and foremost, it was the absence of Chris Paul. Let’s not kid ourselves. The Suns played really well the other night; they’re certainly basking in the afterglow of a coaching change, like most franchises that don’t have the Great Emperor Popovich do when they change horses midstream. Goran Dragic is the best player on this team, and he showed it against the Clippers. The problem, though, is that GORAN DRAGIC is the best Sun.

I mean, remember when Spurs-Suns used to mean something, even if all it meant was a hardfought game (or series) that the Suns would eventually lose. Now I’m praying for Timmy and company to step down on the throat of this dying beast and help in Phoenix’s quest for the top pick.

AM: So it would only add more fuel to the fire of this former rivalry if the Spurs would lose the game?

AL: It’d be like John McClane making his way to Hans Gruber, only for Hans’s cleaning lady to take out John on the sixth floor. Losing to the Suns wouldn’t just add more fuel to the fire — it’d be justifiable motivation for Spurs fans to burn the whole thing down.

AM: With Steve Nash gone, the Suns are in a new era. How do they play basketball now with Nash and now Alvin Gentry no longer there?

AL: There’s been a decided, conscious shift in this team’s philosophy. They’re trying to craft a no-nonsense, grind it out, defensive mentality, and that really started with assistant Elston Turner, who unfortunately is no longer with the team after he and Dan Majerle walked out when Gentry was fired. As one would expect on the offensive end, the offense is infinitely more isolation-oriented. Marcin Gortat is no longer the threat as a roll man that he was both while playing with Nash and while operating under the old offensive system. He and Luis Scola are among the league leaders in points per possession in post-up opportunities, though. This team often seems confused, fluctuating between a perimeter-driven attack aimed to collapse the defense and an inside-out attack led by the bigs.

And, of course, there’s Michael Beasley, who plays basketball like a hamster in scuba gear exploring the Great Barrier Reef.

AM: Remember when people were saying the Bulls should draft him over Derrick Rose? I’m glad they were wrong.

AL: Rose could have destroyed his knee permanently and been forced to play basketball on crutches for the rest of his career, and I’m still strongly considering taking Rose’s future over Beasley’s.

Put it this way, brave Spurs readers: Michael Beasley, between his play and his contract, has been so bad that I have no vitriol left for Shannon “GIMME THE ROCK” Brown.

AM: Where are the Suns at their weakest? Where can the Spurs exploit them?

AL: It all starts with pick-and-roll against Phoenix. Top pick-and-roll, side pick-and-roll, pick-and-roll from the slot — it’s a veritable smorgasbord of offensive options for Tony Parker and company. The Suns don’t do an awful job of containing the ball handler in the P&R (they’re 13th in the league against P&R ball-handlers, per Synergy), but their lack of perimeter playmakers on the defensive end and a serious problem with backline rotations has rendered Phoenix 28th in the league against the roll man in P&R. Once the initial defenders allow penetration and the bigs fail to either hedge or sink back on the screen, Gortat and friends on the backline simply either don’t have the chemistry/experience or aren’t communicating well enough to develop crisp, effective rotations to help the helper, which is so very necessary in today’s NBA.

AM: So basically, we can expect Tiago Splitter to have 24 points on 9-12 shooting or something of the like?

AL: And Boris is going to absolutely devour the interior of the Phoenix defense with his passing. It’s going to be a constant barrage of high-low genius and three point devastation.

Speaking of 3-point devastation, might link your readers to the Bonner on Bonner mailbag if you’re so inclined. (Andrew’s note: It’s hilarious, read it.)

AM: The Spurs could use a really good 3-point shooting game. They’ve been off target a bit lately, although last night they were a hair under 40 percent against the Mavs. They haven’t had one of those insane 50-60 percent nights in a while, though.

AL: Given that the Spurs are a top 5 spot up team and the Suns are competing for last defensively, Phoenix might just be the cure for San Antonio’s relative shooting woes.

AM: Outside of posting up, how can the Suns excel against the Spurs? Do they at least force turnovers at a decent clip?

AL: They’re about middle of the pack when it comes to forcing turnovers. They don’t foul very often, relative to field goal attempts allowed, and they’re below average in turning the ball over themselves. The Suns don’t rebound well, they don’t force opponents into bad shots and they don’t get an extreme number of free throws themselves.

Essentially, the Suns have entered what I like to call “Bobcatopia.” The only way this team is winning a game — any game, not even one against the Spurs — is on energy and hustle, those old-school intangibles I hate so much. Phoenix’s best bet is for the other team to miss shots they normally hit, then for the Suns to get out and run.

It’s a tired, dumb answer for a tired, dumb team.

AM: Can I get one random prediction from you before you go? Something that has nothing to do with the final score.

AL: Splitter/Diaw/Duncan combine for 12+ assists. Likely? Maybe not. But it’s certainly within the realm of possibility against this Phoenix interior defense.