The San Antonio Spurs host the Phoenix Suns tonight in the AT&T Center.
The Suns (13-13) enter tonight's contest with a less than full roster as their new players (Vince Carter and Marcin Gortat) via a trade with the Orlando Magic will not join the Suns until later in the week. Also, Steve Nash is back from nursing a neck injury and is still showing the NBA he still has plenty left in his tank as is Grant Hill who is having a solid season for the Suns despite his age and past injuries.
The Spurs (22-3) already beat the Suns in November, 112-110, with Tim Duncan scored 25 points and 17 rebounds and hopes to duplicate that performance. The Spurs are also on a an eight game winning streak and look to maintain their status as the best team in the NBA.
To talk about tonight's game, I turn to fellow Bloguin NBA blogger Jim Neveau of Suns Rising. Suns Rising is one of Bloguin's newest NBA blogs and it is a must visit not just for Suns fans but for any fan of the NBA.
In this Q&A, Jim gives us his thoughts on the recent Suns trade, tonight's game, his take on the Spurs-Suns rivalry, and more. To read the Q&A I did with Jim click HERE to visit Suns Rising.
Jeff: I got to get your reaction to the recent trade the Suns made with the Orlando Magic. Do you like it or not and how does it change the Suns outlook this season?
Jim: The move signals two things to me: one is that the team realizes that the Hedo Turkoglu trade this summer was an ill-advised move, and that they are looking at getting some pieces in place for the future.
Looking harder at the Turkoglu element, it is pretty apparent that Hedo was not going to fit the role that Phoenix wanted him to. They viewed him as some type of "utility infielder" who could play any position, including power forward. Truth is that Turkoglu is not well suited to playing at that position, and he is way more comfortable at small forward. Unfortunately for him, the Suns have a glut of players like Grant Hill and Jared Dudley at the three position, and Turkoglu simply was not going to get adequate minutes.
The biggest beef that I have with the deal is this: if it only took a couple of months to realize that Turkoglu was a mistake, why even make the trade in the first place? It never made sense to move a guy who could play the point in the event that Steve Nash got injured (Leandro Barbosa) for a guy to play a position that you have at least four other guys that can play it. The worst part of all of this is that the Suns had to move Jason Richardson to get rid of Hedo's horrible contract, and J-Rich has been one of the most consistent performers for them this season. It's a move that never should have had to happen, but judging by the wretched deal the Suns got rid of by shipping out Turkoglu, they could have done a lot worse.
The player I'm most interested to see coming back to Phoenix is Marcin Gortat. He's a guy that I've had my eye on ever since the speculation of trading Nash first surfaced, because I thought he'd be a great fit for the Suns. He should provide a spark down low, and he is at least a way more serviceable option than Robin Lopez.
The NBA is seeing former Suns Amar'e Stoudamire dominating in New York and is getting some early MVP consideration. How does this make you and Suns fans feel?
I feel like the Suns did everything that they could under less than ideal circumstances to keep Amar'e. They offered him plenty of contracts and big time money, but the fact that Steve Kerr left the team in a lurch during the off-season did not help things. I feel like Amar'e would be having similar offensive output in Phoenix, especially with Nash still feeding him the ball, but the reality is that he's gone, and the team is struggling without that inside presence to free up the outside shooters.
The one knock against Amar'e that Suns fans always bring up is that he has a tendency to take games off and not exactly give it his all on defense. Those are both valid concerns, but I have a feeling that now that he's the star of the show in New York that this trend will be less likely to express itself.
The one thing with Amar'e that no one seems to bring up is that his knee problems could eventually come back up. Micro-fracture surgery is always a serious thing to undergo, and even though he hasn't had any major issues with the knee since, there's always the probability that it will act up again. Phoenix's training staff has always had a good reputation for keeping guys healthy, so it will be interesting to see if Stoudemire can continue to stay healthy in the Big Apple.
Now on to the game tonight. How ironic is it to see the Spurs running more and scoring more and do you think this style of play will play right into the Suns' hands tonight in San Antonio?
It's certainly an interesting change of pace. The Spurs have generally been a team that can slow down a game to a crawl and dominate teams with solid perimeter and inside defense, but this year's incarnation of San Antonio has been completely the opposite. I've been extremely impressed with how well the team has been moving the ball (they're second in the NBA in assists per game), and they really seem to be clicking on all cylinders early, as opposed to previous seasons when they wait until the end of the year to really fire up the troops.
Whenever you are talking about a high-tempo game, it obviously helps Phoenix out. When the Spurs have had success in slowing Phoenix down (which seems to happen a lot, with the exception of the 2010 playoffs), then it takes the Suns out of their game, and the Spurs just pound the ball inside to Duncan with great success. Now, the Spurs are still certainly capable of playing solid defense (even though they are 13th in the league in points allowed per game), but Phoenix is still going to be thrilled if the game turns into a track meet. It honestly is their only chance at winning.
Nash is having another solid season and shows no signs of slowing down. Tony Parker is also having a solid season and had a tremendous showing against the Memphis Grizzlies with 36 points. Is this the key matchup tonight or is it something else?
Personally, I think the key match-up is going to be putting someone on Duncan to try to stop him down low. In the team's other game this season, Duncan had 25 points and 17 rebounds against the Suns. There is no way on God's green Earth that Phoenix can allow that to happen again and expect to win.
Unfortunately for Phoenix, they're going to have to rely once again on Robin Lopez to try to stay with Duncan, and if Lopez gets into early foul trouble and only plays 12 minutes again in the re-match, the Suns are in big trouble. Stopping Duncan will be the key in my eyes, because if they can slow him down inside and force the game outside, the Suns have a much better chance of winning.
Recently suns.com had a villains list and it was dominated by current and former Spurs. Come on, so San Antonio pretty much owned the Suns over the past years and crushed any NBA title hopes the team had. Sure the Suns swept the Spurs last year but will the Suns ever let it go?
I think that a little bit of hatred against someone who has so frequently been the reason they've been eliminated from the playoffs is a good thing. San Antonio may not view Phoenix as a big rival, but I don't think it's fair to demand that a fan base let go resentment over a team that has been the bane of their existence.
On the serious side though, I think there are quite a few fans that don't view San Antonio as Phoenix's
biggest rival (myself included). It's probably a sign of respect that the Suns' website went to the effort to include so many Spurs players, because the team itself isn't really "hateable". The team is really one of those that fans don't like to see on the slate, but they respect them like crazy. The Spurs have won their titles and playoff series the right way: by building a team that is greater than the sum of its parts, and having a franchise center and brilliant head coach.
Phoenix is now starting a process to rebuild the team, and while they'll probably keep elements of their run-and-gun style, but they'll probably put a bigger emphasis on team defense. The Spurs have shown this season that you can have an up-tempo offense but still have guys who can play solid defense, and while it may sound like I'm trying to earn brownie points here, the Suns would be well-advised to study San Antonio's style this season. It doesn't require obtaining elite free agent talent, and with a younger team that will undoubtedly be fielded by Phoenix last year, it will be easier to build a team-first style squad now than it has been in the past with guys like Amar'e in the fold.