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SAN ANTONIO - MAY 07: Goran Dragic #2 of the Phoenix Suns takes a shot against the San Antonio Spurs in Game Three of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on May 7, 2010 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
It's been five days since the Suns took the court for real. Tonight they resume their quest of facing 40+-win teams in 15 of their first 16 games to start the season. Ouch.
The Phoenix Suns host the San Antonio Spurs for the first time since outrebounding them in Game 2 of the playoffs' second round last May. Dudley had 11 points and 6 rebounds off the bench, including a big 3 to put the Suns up for good early in the 4th. Good thing the Suns signed that man to an extension!
"Jared Dudley changed the whole game," lamented Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. "He was a monster. That was huge..."
But that was then, and this is now.
We all know how the Suns have changed, but this is not the same Spurs team the Suns faced 5 months ago either. This time, the Spurs are relying heavily on DeJuan Blair at C and three rookies: C Tiago Splitter, G James Anderson and G Gary Neal to supplement their aging Big 3.
San Antonio Express - Blog: Spurs Nation
"For so many years, we had vets," point guard Tony Parker said. "It’s time for us to rebuild. We’ve got some great young guys. We have to throw them into the fire."
In the past, coach Gregg Popovich would seldom trust a rookie with his dry cleaning, much less the intricacies of the Spurs’ pick-and-roll defense. Now he has three in the rotation.
To find a Spurs team as dependent upon first-year players as this one, you have to go back to the 1990-91 club that got semi-regular minutes from the not-so-big three of Sean Higgins, Tony Massenburg and Dwayne Schintzius.
When the Spurs return to Phoenix tonight for the fourth game of a new season, they do so with three prominent rookies in tow, all poised for a rowdy induction into the bloody rivalry with the Suns.
A bloody rivalry? Bloody for sure - and always at the expense of Nash's cranium.
But a rivalry? Coming from San Antonio faithful, this is new. Before last season, the Suns were a minor irritant. Then Goran Dragic arrived in conjunction with Father Time smacking Timmy, Manu and Tony upside the head.
Goran scored 18 in an early season win over the Spurs. Then he led a fourth-quarter rally with the second unit over the Spurs starters in an important late-season game. And finally, there was the playoffs. 26 points in the final 15 minutes of Game 3, in San Antonio. Goran's shining moment. Timmy, Manu and Tony's worst moment (not to mention DeJuan Blair, who might still be having nightmares as well).
But I digress. Back to the Spurs' rookies.
In their last game, 26-yr old Gary Neal poured in 16 points off the bench, while Splitter saw his first action of the season with a 10-minute stint on the front line.
Of course, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The Spurs leaders in minutes, points, rebounds, steals, blocks and every other major category are the same as they've always been: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
(courtesy of basketball-reference.com)
Robin Lopez vs Timmy: Lopez is a good defender under the basket, but a poor one (so far) when he has to guard more than 10 feet from the rim. Last year, Duncan reacted by setting up much like Gasol last week, popping 10-15 foot jumpers with impunity. This actually benefits the Suns, because it pulls Duncan away from the rim, enhancing the Suns' chances for defensive rebounds on misses while also reducing Lopez' likelihood of picking up quick fouls.
Hedo vs DeJaun: An interesting matchup of opposite styles will be on display tonight. Assuming Lopez guards Duncan, that leaves perimeter-oriented Hedo Turkoglu to guard shorter, thicker DeJuan Blair. Among the coaches, who blinks first? Does Gentry succumb to the fear of Hedo breaking in half, and play Frye with Lopez a lot? Or does Popovich succumb to the fear of watching Blair get owned on the perimeter like in last year's playoffs? Hedo loves space. Blair hates it. Who wins?
Suns wings vs. Spurs wings: this mixing and matching on offense and defense will be interesting to watch. Suns won the battle of little men in last year's playoffs and have only gotten better since then. I wonder how much time Goran will get on Parker and/or Ginobili, considering Nash's bad matchup on this end and Goran's majority ownership of the Spurs in recent games. But it's time for Steve to have a breakout game. I get the feeling that tonight is that game.
Who's a worse rebounding team? The Suns have averaged only 39.3 (10.3 offensive) rebounds a game, but the Spurs have been even WORSE at 38.3 (9 offensive) rebounds a game. Surprised? Me too.
To boot, the Spurs opening schedule has been lighter with a home win over Indiana and a road win over the Clippers, sandwiching a home beat-down to energized New Orleans.
The Suns, on the other hand, have lost to Portland (now 4-1 overall) and the Lakers (defending champs and 3-0 this season), with their only win a big roadie against Utah (now 1-2 overall after killing the Thunder in their third game).
What does this mean for tonight?
Nothing. You cannot judge a team's strengths or weaknesses on such a small sample size of data.
While logically you might want to say that the Suns' first three games are predictive of how the season will unfold (behind LA and Portland, ahead of Utah), it is way way too early to really know if that's the case. Portland may regress and Utah may surge, and who knows LA might crumble into the ocean too.
Will San Antonio come in with revenge in their hearts tonight? Or are they more interested in fixing their own warts?
Frankly, I'm not sure how Popovich and the Big 3 react to being underdogs since they've rarely been in underdogs before. In the old days, with SA a big favorite, Pop would diffuse a regular-season matchup against a rival by benching one or more of the Big 3 with a mysterious one-game injury. But as the underdog, coaching a team that needs as many wins as it can get?
"It's going to be a tough game," Richardson said. "They're going to come in ready. We put them out of the playoffs last year. They've still got a big 3 with Tony, Manu and Timmy. We'll have to be ready for those guys."
One thing I do know: the Suns-Spurs is now a rivalry in the heart of the Texas. A bloody rivalry.
Will tonight's game live up to that history?
Now, it's on to Phoenix and the latest chapter in the age old story of sibling rivalry. Big brother constantly beats up on little brother, over and over and over again, and little brother keeps getting more and more frustrated. But eventually, little brother's going to find big brother's weakness, and when he does, he will show no mercy, mainly because of all that built up anger and aggression. Such is the case with these two teams. Little brother kicked our butts last year, no doubt about it.
KTAR Previews the game here
The last time the Phoenix Suns saw the San Antonio Spurs they were wrapping up a four game sweep of their Texas rivals. That won't be on the mind of most of those on the court Wednesday at the US Airways Center.
That's because many of the players that will be in uniform weren't around during last year's Western Conference Semifinals.
Between the two teams, 11 of the 28 players weren't on either roster for any of the seven Suns-Spurs matchups last season.
Phoenix Suns Schedule Brings San Antonio Spurs Back For 'Revenge', 7 P.M. AZT - SB Nation Arizona
One thing that the Spurs (and the rest of us) might start seeing more of is Hedo Turkoglu increasing his touches as a ball-handler. He said that he's been working on running the pick and roll with Robin Lopez in the half court and will look to bring the ball up in transition more off rebounds.
Mark your calendars fellow Suns fans, we're going to have ourselves a Bright Side of the Sun Night!!!!
Well actually we're going to piggyback off of the event PlanetOrange.net will be hosting that night....a minor detail.
Either way Seth and myself will do our damndest to rally enough of you Brightsiders to make our presence known. We'll be a vast legion amidst the teeming masses of bloggers!!! Or at least a far larger group than the one that showed up last year to the event Seth organized. How many of you went to that besides me anyway?
So come on and show your support! Mark that calendar and don't you dare forget to go this time!
Stayed tuned for more information as we get closer to the date.
More photos » Christian Petersen - Getty Images
The heart and soul of the Suns second unit. I mean Jared, not that guy from Twilight.
Once again, Gentry wasn't pleased with today's practice. Same as yesterday. Two not good practices in a row. This time, I asked what constitutes a "not good" practice. Is it effort or focus? The answer was kind of a vague repeat of what Alvin's said before about never having to coach effort and that the team has played hard 99% of the time since he's been here. He said execution a few times. Basically, he wasn't happy but wouldn't elaborate why.
Josh Childress sat out practice today with what he described as a sore hip flexor and to rest his broken finger but he expects to play tomorrow. He tweaked the hip in practice yesterday trying to make a move. He says he's still hesitant playing with the finger.
"It's definitely something I think about because it's on my right hand. It's one of those injuries where you don't really realize how much you use your hand, particularly your index finger, until it's hurting," Chilly said. Even tying his shoes is annoying right now but he's tough and is trying not to think about it. No word yet if rookie Matt Janning or Gani Lawal have been assigned the task of tying Josh's game shoes.
The big hubbub today, of course, was the Jared Dudley extension. Here's what Coach Gentry had to say about valuing a guy like Jared who doesn't alway put up big numbers.
"I don't think you can look at stats and judge anybody. I don't think you can look at a stat sheet and say this guy's averaging 20 a game and so he's worth this much money. I think you've got to look at the overall body of work that a guy does for your team and for us, he does a lot of good things. He makes big shots and if you look at the playoffs last year he's kind of the guy on that second unit that from a chemistry stand point keeps everybody together and keeps them going well."
That's old school right there, people. Take your WARP and SRS and put them where the tweets don't shine.
Gentry joked that he tried to borrow money from Jared but he's holding on to it tight which is somehow indicative of how Jared isn't going to change.
"He's not going to change, guys. If you look at where he's gotten because of hard work and things that he's done. He left San Diego and went all the way to Boston College and had great years there when he wasn't a highly recruited guy and he ended being the ACC Player of the Year.
"They he gets drafted in the league and he comes out and works hard every day at practice and we gave him an opportunity to play a year and a half ago and he stepped up for us and took advantage of it and I think as a player that's all you can ask for is to be given an opportunity and then I think it's up to the player to take advantage of it and that's what he did."
Here's the interesting thing about that last part about "taking advantage of an opportunity" -- it's almost as if Gentry was talking about Dudley but thinking about Earl Clark.
Check out this great write up about the Earl Clark situation by our intern, Shaun:
In reality, it is only human nature to be affected by such opposing expectations. Clark is only twenty-two years old, and not yet fully acclimated to the inherent adversity that comes in such a competitive business.
And here's more about Jared not changing with a lot from Babby avoiding my questions about why this contract means in context of the others the Suns have on their books in light of the coming CBA changes:
Phoenix Suns Make Leap Of Faith With Decision To Extend Jared Dudley - SB Nation Arizona
"It's just the beginning. This deal's a long time, but I can still get better. I just turned 25. I know, kind of get a sense of how to play in this league -- offensively, defensively, knowing the refs, knowing players' tendencies -- and you're going to see the growth of me these next three or four years," Dudley said.
Spurs Game Chat
Gentry talked about them being the same old Spurs with Tim, Manu and Tony but he thinks their bench is better this season. I've heard that too, but guys like rookies James Anderson and Gary Neal are unknowns to me and I am looking forward to seeing Tiago Splitter in action for the first time (in person).
Intern Shaun brought up an interesting question today about the match ups. It will be very neat to see how the Suns front court chooses to defend the Spurs starters, Duncan and Blair. You would expect Robin to be on Tim which leaves Hedo to try and keep Blair off the glass. Good luck with that. Of course, on the other end we've seen that Blair isn't exactly a speedy perimeter defender and will likely struggle with Hedo on the wing. Mismatches abound.
Gentry, however much you might want to hear otherwise, doesn't think the Spurs are out for revenge. We'll see what they say about that tomorrow. I bet Duncan hasn't slept a wink since the Suns swept them from the playoffs. He might just come out and tear someone's head off in the first 30 second.
[Note by Seth Pollack, 11/02/10 8:55 PM MST ]
Forgot to pass along this link. Looks like one week in, the "defend and explain Amare" spin has already started in New York. Just like old times.
- Posting and Toasting
"I think he's trying to do a little too much," D'Antoni said. "We talked about it. Just slow it down a bit. Just take your time knowing that guys are going to converge on you and become a little bit more of a playmaker. I think he knows that."