Welcome to part II of the 2012 Epic Pounding The Rock/BSOTS
Q&A. The tables have been turned on Mr. Wilco as I seek to
find out how the Spurs continue their winning ways
while also touching on what could be termed
as one very raw subject.
WC: How do you in the big T feel about the Phoenix Suns? Do you think with all of the recent Spurs domination (exception being THE SWEEP) that there really still is a rivalry?
JR: I have a huge amount of respect for the Suns franchise in general and Steve Nash in particular, and there once was a time when nobody scared me like the Phoenix Suns. When the series between Phoenix and San Antonio ended in 2007, everything after it was a letdown. Maybe not everybody else felt the way that I did but going into that series I really had no idea how the Spurs could win it. I wasn't expecting them to lose I just didn't know how they could win. And once they did, the Jazz and the Cavaliers were mere speed bumps on the way to the championship. I mean that as clearly as I can possibly say it. When the Spurs were done with the Suns they won eight of their next nine games. Talk about anticlimactic!
Then there was the 2008 first-round series which honestly I don't even have the energy to go into right now. Just the first game alone would require at least another 500 words to do it justice. Did you know that the '08 series against you guys was when Manu's ankle was hurt? Did you know that he hasn't been healthy in the postseason since then? Well he hasn't.
And to finally get around to your answer. The definition of a rivalry is something that both teams have the chance to win. And for so long, as you said, it was nothing more than Spurs domination. Then when you guys finally did beat us, it was a sweep and wasn't really competitive at all. Now that would have triggered the beginning of a rivalry if Phx had held up its end of the bargain, and made it to the playoffs again the next year. When you failed to do that, honestly I felt a little like you dropped off the radar. But I'm guessing that all it would take to turn that back on would be one more playoff series between the two teams. You never know though, it could happen with a single intense, playoff-atmosphere, regular-season game.
WC: How in the world have you guys done it? Is Pop that good or what? I haven't watched many Spurs games, but Duncan seems to be on the downward side of his career Manu has had a bunch of injuries as has Parker.
JR: That is the $64 question for sure. And it's one that everybody wants to know the answer to. I guess it's a bit like my question about Steve and his secret to longevity and the mystery of his amazingly high percentage shooting, combined with his utter command of an offense and ability to generate assists out of thin air.
But with Pop I suppose it's way more systemic and a lot less individually spectacular. He somehow has the ability to see matchups and possibilities where no one else does. At the beginning of last year when he converted the team from a defensive juggernaut into an offensive force while de-emphasizing Duncan's role as a low post presence, it was like having owned a Hummer for 10+ years, and leaving the house to go to work one morning and finding a Ferrari parked in your driveway. These things simply do not happen. Jerry Sloan didn't remake the Jazz when he lost Karl Malone and John Stockton. He kept his thumbprint on every aspect of the team and continued to find players who would be able to fit that system until he eventually fell out of touch with DeRon, and decided that he just didn't want to coach
no more. That's the way crotchety old coaches are supposed to behave themselves.
But that's just not Pop. In addition to being an inbounds-play-drawing-up-wizard, he continuously develops schemes to put his players in positions to succeed, regardless of their size or relative talent level. It truly is a wonder to behold, and while watching the game of basketball played well is one of the joys of life -- the truth is that following coach Pop day in, day out throughout the season is just about the most enjoyable part of running my blog.
WC: Who is the biggest unsung hero on the Spurs? Talk about what he does for the team?
JR: Okay now this one is quite difficult because you're asking me to list way too many people on this year's team. If memory serves, we have eight different guys who've led the team in scoring so far this season, and following the Spurs is a nightly situation of wondering who is going to come up big this time. With the way that Pop focuses so much on keeping the team and players well rested, any game could see any player held out for any reason at all. You might've heard that Duncan was listed as a DNP for Sunday's game against Philadelphia with the reason of "Old." Yes, Timmeh was too old to play that night. And that's what the box score actually said.
But if you forced me to name just one guy I suppose I have to say Kawhi Leonard. He is a rookie and he's only 20 years old. But he is one of the main reasons that the Spurs defense is starting to look like something approaching the elite defenses of old San Antonio. His outside shot keeps improving (he was not a very good shooter in college) and his handle is getting pretty decent to the point where he has the green light to grab a rebound and just take off down the court on his own one-man-fast-break, which until recently had only been the bailiwick of Tony Parker. And he's even started to attack the basket after a pump fake at a three pointer, a play that he finished over Serge Ibaka with a monster slam the last time the Spurs played Oklahoma City. His arms are so long and he is so quick that he can guard his man and the passing lane at the same time. He's not quite to Bruce Bowen's level, but he can already do things that Bruce never could and I wouldn't be surprised if he ended up there before too long.
WC: Has Duncan spoken of retirement? Are you all nervous about what happens when he leaves?
JR: There're a number of us who were very, very nervous about what was going to happen at the end of this season when his contract expired. But he put all of those fears to rest pretty quickly at the beginning of the season and I don't know that any Spurs fan who really follows the team closely still has any doubts about him coming back to play next year.
WC: A friend of mine were discussing the Suns "rebuilding." I started thinking about it, and I realized that if you don't clearly "nuke" your team or trade your best player, it's never actually clear when a rebuild takes place. The Suns brass have stated they don't have the stomach to go New Jersey or Cleveland and endure several awful years. How do you think the Spurs ownership views change?
JR: With the addition of Steven Jackson and Boris and with the way Leonard is playing as well as how Tiago Splitter has gotten so comfortable in the Spurs system; the emergence of Danny Green as an streaky all-around threat, it's entirely possible that there will be a smooth transition from the end of the Duncan era into ... well, whatever era's next. I know that you always have to have a star, but Parker is only 29 years old and if there is anything that this year has taught us it is that Tony can be "The Guy" on a contending team.
WC: Bonus question....Many of us still haven't forgotten the Nash/Horry incident.I've never spoken to a Spurs fan about it. Do you think it was dirty? An accident?
Horry body checks Steve Nash (via sunzfan26)
JR: At the time it happened. I thought that Horry had gotten him pretty good, and I was concerned that Nash was in danger of being hurt pretty badly. I don't know how many San Antonio fans feel this way but I have a huge fear of opposing players being hurt while playing against the Spurs. Of course it's inevitable and it happens to every team, but I just have this strange feeling that there will be this huge backlash against the Spurs for some kind of normal basketball play. So that moment really hit on an apprehension that I have always had.
But after some time went by and I watched the replay over a few times, it seemed to me that after Nash landed, he added some additional flailing to the end of his dismount, in order to make the most of it for the refs. (I've seen interviews with Steve where he admitted as much.) While this served to make it appear to be a more flagrant hit than it actually was, of course it also meant that his teammates rose to his defense with more urgency than they would have, had he not sold the foul so well.
Here's the point at which I should reiterate that Horry absolutely fouled him intentionally. But I do not believe that it was done with any intent to injure and I didn't see it as a dirty play then or now. Rob was certainly frustrated, and there's no way he would've done that if the Spurs were about to win the game, but I don't think he was wanting to knock Steve out of the game or series. The way I remember it, is that with that last rebound and pass out to Nash, the game was sewn up for you guys, and Steve was still going streaking down the court to score again. I'm not saying that it was completely indefensible, but certainly understandable, to give a bump in that situation.
I'm probably taking extra time in describing my position on this because I don't want to be misunderstood, but I want to state that I do not condone any attempts to ever foul with the intention to injure other players -- or to foul recklessly to the point that a players are put in dangerous positions needlessly. That said, I don't think that play is an example of that, or of Horry out headhunting, or of some elaborate scheme to get your players suspended from the next game. While all of those kind of Machiavellian conspiracy theories are certainly interesting, and some quite compelling, I just don't see any of them being true.
Stay tuned for the game preview!
No surprise, the playoff race in the NBA Western Conference is just as tight as ever with no letting up in sight. Currently, the only difference between the fourth seed in the playoffs with home court advantage, and the 12th seed with nothing to play for but ping pong balls is a mere five games. This means that every single game is critical from this point on, especially for the Phoenix Suns who now occupy the 10th seed.
The Suns still have 17 games left to play, and not only will they have to earn a playoff spot by beating some very tough competition through the end of the regular season, they will also have to rely on some losses by the other teams currently ahead of them in the standings ... and last night, no such help was given.
Although the Suns didn't play last night, they still dropped from the 9th seed just yesterday due to no fault of their own. Inactivity alone was enough to lower the Suns in the Western Conference standings today after the other teams in the playoff hunt ran the table last night.
Here are the most recent games that mattered and an update on the current standings after the jump ...
Here are the most up-to-date standings courtesy of NBA.com:
Key Games Monday, March 26:
Head Coach Tyrone Corbin rolls dice by going very starter heavy again, Jazz win -- earn some rest hopefully. Big Al Jefferson went for 19 and 8, with 3 helpers, 2 steals and 1 block in 30 more minutes of action. Paul Millsap went 10/14 from the field, knocked down his only three point attempt on the way to a 24 points / 13 rebound night.
I'm not going to BEGIN to explain this. After two infuriating losses to teams that the normally should beat, the Nuggets turn in their best performance since the San Antonio game (March 4th) and beat the Chicago Bulls 108-91 at the United Center.
The Houston Rockets overcame a big first quarter deficit to come from behind to defeat the Sacramento Kings 113-106 in overtime. The Rockets got off to a putrid start trailing 24-8 at one point in the first quarter. However, Houston outscored the Kings 29-21 in the third and 14-7 in overtime to claim the victory.
No one is going to bestow praise upon the Clippers for dismantling a New Orleans team playing without Chris Kaman and Jason Smith (not to mention Eric Gordon and Emeka Okafor). But the Clippers did what they were supposed to do tonight, getting a win on their home floor against a non playoff team.
While yesterday was out of the Suns' hands, tonight will be a different story. The Suns will face the San Antonio Spurs at home in what will be a game with huge playoff implications. The San Antonio Spurs are currently in the 2nd seed, and while the Suns have virtually no chance of catching them, they have to win at home against their Western Conference rivals ... especially with only eight games left to play at home and nine games on the road ... ALL of them against Western Conference teams!
In addition to the Suns and the Spurs, tonight will also feature games from many other Western Conference teams in the playoff hunt, such as the Memphis Grizzlies, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, OKC Thunder, Portland Trail Blazers and the Los Angeles Lakers. The standings will remain constantly in flux and are sure to change by tomorrow. Stay tuned ...
Mr. J.R. Wilco over at Pounding The Rock and I got together
for a little e-Q&A. J.R. got first shot-his questions in bold
my answers are below. Enjoy.
JR: Understanding that it's been years since he's played in Phoenix, and the Spurs system today is so far removed from the 7SoL offense he played in for you guys -- what do you think Spurs fans will get (good and bad) out of Boris Diaw?
WC: Alvin Gentry called Boris Diaw one of the smartest top two or three players he's ever coached, and that says a lot. As fans we never doubted that he was gifted, we just wondered where his head was at at times. We watched him pass up wide open 2 footers to pass out to the wing. We saw the guy not show up, play with zero energy, forget what boxing out was, and then smile about it, thus earning him the nickname "Doris." However, when the guy was focused, he could be a great play maker, match up 1-5, and hit shots from all over the floor. If anyone can keep this guy focused, Pops would be the man.
JR: In a lot of ways even though the franchises have gone in different directions after their last meeting in the playoffs (the sweep) I think there are still some similarities. We both have stars that are generally treated by the media as though they shouldn't be able to continue to do what they obviously can still do. Dealing with this generally causes Spurs fans to bristle, how do Phoenix fans handle the Suns' treatment by the media? (Especially since, it always appeared to Spurs fans, that you guys were the media darlings.)
WC: Media darlings? Hahaha, thats good. I think the Suns got a ton of press during the D'Antoni years for scoring a lot of points and playing fast, which was fun for everyone. But ever since D'Antoni left, the Suns were never given a chance. In 2010, not many of the so-called experts chose the Suns to even make the playoffs, yet they made it to the WCF. And once Stoudemire left, it got even worse. Now it's at the stage where no one really cares about the Suns unless they are talking about Steve Nash retiring or being traded. Personally, I think most of us know Nash well enough that if he says he doesn't want to go, he means it. The same goes with Grant Hill. Nevertheless, the media knows better, right? I think you get where I'm going here. Our guys wrote tons of stories proclaiming Nash trade rumors were pointless, he's not going anywhere. We're all pretty sick of it.
JR: I saw a stat the other day said Nash's offenses for the last 10 years were either # 1 or 2 in offensive efficiency. You may be tired of this question but, how does he DO that? And with those guys?
WC: First off, Nash is in fantastic shape. For him to be playing at his age is one thing. But to be playing as effective as he is, well that's a testament to how well he takes care of himself coupled with being a very smart player. In simple terms, he knows his teammates, he knows where they will be on the floor, he knows where he needs to get them the ball in order for them to have a chance at success. Lastly, he knows his opponents. He knows what they are going to do before they do it. It's amazing, but he IS the Suns. There may be one or two other guys in the league (and I don't know who, I'm estimating) that could take Nash's place on the Suns and have the success he has had running the team. Take Nash away, the Suns are easy in the bottom five of the league. No exaggerations.
JR: Yes it's another Nash question: the popular perception of Steve is that he doesn't play defense. What is the BSotS's official point of view on this subject? Feel free to give me the boilerplate. I feel certain that one exists.
WC: Nash is an underrated defender. Again, he uses his head. He doesn't have the speed and athleticism of some of the younger point guards in the league, but he has the experience to know where these guys are going and where they will be so he can beat them to a spot and take a charge.
JR: Okay I know Marcin Gortat is awesome, but assume I know nothing else about the rest of your team. What/who can I be watching out for when they play the Spurs?
WC: The Suns are obviously playing better since the All Star break. The big thing is that the starters have held steady while the bench has finally gelled. Look for Jared Dudley to prove he can go for 20+, play quality defense, and pick up some boards. He's an underrated 2 guard with a lot of smarts and energy. Grant Hill will be matched on your best offensive player 1-4. His defense stifles nearly everyone in the league, exceptions being Kobe and LeBron. Hill runs the floor, hits anything from 5 to 18 feet out, and finishes. Channing Frye has had an awful shooting year overall, but he can get hot in a hurry and take over a game. He's also figured out how to stay on the floor when his shot isn't falling by D'ing up and hitting the boards. The Suns second unit isn't all that impressive, individually, but they have taken on the role of playing tough defense, scrapping, and finally hitting some shots. Shannon Brown has stepped up, as has Sebastian Telfair, Michael Redd has had a few nice games, and Robin Lopez has been fairly steady of late.
Power rankings in the NBA are merely points of debate and chatter since the ultimately meaningful decisions about which teams are better and best are made on the court. It just so happens that debate and chatter are what we do around these here parts, so let's look at a few of the power rankings of NBA experts to see where the Suns stand, after the jump.ESPN's Marc Stein has the Suns climbing four spots from last week, from #13 to #9. The Suns have spent seven of the 13 weeks of the season so far ranked lower than #20, bottoming out at #27 after their woeful week 1. This week's ranking is their first in Stein's top 10. Writes Stein:
The Suns still haven't figured out that they have no business challenging for a playoff spot out West, moving to 11-4 since the All-Star break (second only to Chicago's 13-2 mark) and seeing Nash record his 10th 15-assist game in a win in Indy ... more than twice as many as No. 2 in line, Rajon Rondo (four).
Sort of a typical backhanded compliment of the Suns from ESPN, no? It's as if Stein hates to admit that the Suns are actually a pretty good team right now, but at least he does admit it, so there's that. He has the Suns as the No. 5 team in the West.
John Hollinger's more stat-driven rankings have the Suns at #15, up from #18, and Hollinger gives the Suns a 37.5% chance of making the playoffs. The Suns are given a 0.4% chance to win the NBA championship, and a 0.4% chance to win the lottery as well. For those who hate "no man's land", the Suns sit squarely in the middle of it according to Hollinger's math.
SB Nation's Tom Ziller is closer to Hollinger's outlook on the Suns, taking the team's entire body of work into account and ranking them at #15.
The Suns are truly hovering on the outside of the West playoff race. They are the only team who hasn't spent a cup of coffee or longer in the No. 8 spot. They are just waiting ... and waiting ...
At least he ranks the Suns ahead of the Nuggets and Rockets, with whom the Suns are fighting for the eighth playoff spot, as he has the Suns in that final playoff spot he mentions they haven't reached yet this season.
Finally, we have NBA.com's John Schuhmann, who has the Suns ranked at #10 overall and #5 in the West.
Steve Nash has now recorded 15 or more assists 10 times this season. But for the second straight year, the Suns have been downright awful, getting outscored by 9.4 points per 100 possessions, when Nash steps off the floor. Even if they keep Nash this summer, they still need to sign another point guard.
It should be noted that all four of these analysts have the Suns in the top eight of the Western Conference, a playoff team. These rankings are only a snapshot, and the Suns are certainly riding high right now.
The question is: are they hitting their stride, and will they continue to perform like the 11-4 team they've been since the All-Star break? Or will the upcoming stretch of games against quality opponents doom them to remain a game or two around .500? I hate to even mention what an injury to a starter would do to the Suns' chances, when they've had such remarkably good health so far this season.
Overall, I think the team's entire body of work puts them closer to the #15 Hollinger and Ziller have the Suns at. What say you, Suns fans?