Suns/Blazers Series Preview
No Brandon Roy. No chance.
by Dennis Tarwood / @tuffyr
The US Census, charged with ‘the actual Enumeration’ of the citizens of these United States every decade, must be absolutely thorough in their work. Therefore, it’s no surprise to anyone that one of the 10 questions asked of all Americans had to be the following: “How and when did you incur your season-altering injury for the Portland Trail Blazers?”
Greg Oden (again). Joel Pryzbilla (twice). Brandon Roy (despite his best intentions to come back at some point in the Playoffs). Nicolas Batum (for the first half of the season). Rudy Fernandez (balky back and quad and so on, upright currently). Nate McMillan (the coach, for Chrissakes, when they were two short for 5-on-5 in practice).
Phoenix Suns head coach Alvin Gentry pointed out before the final Suns home game of the season that the results don’t reflect the trials of being a Trail Blazer: “To win 50 games in the West with all that going on… What Nate has done is just a little bit better.” Gentry called McMillan his coach of the year.
You can throw out all the actual Enumeration when the Trail Blazers and Suns play. Really. Just toss them all out. The statistics just don’t matter. The counting stats, anyway.
McMillan has kept his squad in position to win by demanding his team dig in their heels and drag each game to a halt (30th in the NBA in pace factor), keeping the possessions down and the scores lower and closer.
The Blazers manage this molasses speed by hammering the boards (5th in offensive rebound percentage, 7th in defensive rebound percentage) and only shooting the basketball in Pavlovian fashion when they hear a buzzer. Over half their shots come with less than 9 seconds on the shot clock.
On the other hand, the Suns under Gentry have returned to an offensive-oriented up-and-down game that makes them the fourth-fastest paced team in the League as well as the most efficient and prolific scoring squad by a long shot.
They sink 41 percent of their threes, best in all the land by 30 percentage points, and clean their offensive glass ’till they squeak while abandoning the other end’s errant shots. All the better to run you into the ground with, my pretty.
The Blazers will likely keep their starters-of-the-moment on the floor 32-38 minutes with mid-season pickup Marcus Camby and Juwan Howard (six months younger than Grant Hill) splitting C minutes more evenly and Martell Webster absorbing any spilled court time. Therefore, slowing the game will be essential to the lungs and legs of the Blazers. Having Playoff-level commercial breaks won’t hurt the cause.
The Blazers hold the 2-1 series edge, but the first Portland win came in December when both teams were quite different. In February and March, the two teams split games in Phoenix with Robin Lopez disrupting the rebounding plans of the Blazers during his spin as Suns starter.
But it’s unclear how much to take away from those two games; the Blazers won the Suns’ way in February, largely on the strength of the now-absent Steve Blake combining forces with Andre Miller to give Steve Nash fits. In March, a game only a mother could love (and only after a handful of Valium) saw both teams shoot under 39 percent as the Suns won while only scoring 93 points.
There isn’t a matchup in this series that dramatically assists Portland. It’s true big guards can give Steve Nash fits, but Andre Miller has only decreased Nash’s output from all-world to perennial All-Star. One could have fired up a Stoudemire-Aldridge argument after last season, but that kind of talk will just get the bartender to cut you off now. LaMarcus will take advantage of Amar’e's still-theoretical interior D, though.
Sure, Jarron Collins (holding the center spot for Robin Lopez as he nurses bulging discs in his lower back) has mostly been earning his way towards the NBA pension, but Marcus Camby won’t embarrass him. For all the positive talk about Nicolas Batum, he still doesn’t occupy the right space at the right time enough and Grant Hill’s made his second career off that. And Rudy Fernandez can’t fail, but he can’t exactly succeed this season, either. Jason Richardson, on the other hand, would probably legally marry Nash if he could for the career boost he’s received in Phoenix.
The Suns’ secret to their success this season, though, has been this single statement: Their second unit is better than yours. Jared Dudley, Goran Dragic, Lou Amundson, Channing Frye and Grant Hill (who bleeds into that second unit most nights) shoot the ball well and provide decent defense. Most of all, though, they make sure that brick is still lashed to the accelerator. The Suns, just like their desert namesake, kill you because they never relent.
Some Suns writers have become obsessed with the genial nature of the team and ask about chemistry more than DuPont shareholders. It’s true the team appears to get along better than most teams most seasons, but you don’t need voodoo science to understand why the Suns are favored in this series.
Instead, simple Enumeration will do: the Phoenix Suns have more skilled players in uniform, more speed against a short bench, and more options available for the coach alongside Nate McMillan in Coach of the Year consideration: Alvin Gentry.
Therefore, ’09-10 Phoenix Suns > ’09-10 Portland Trail Blazers. The Blazers’ style of play, the longer rest periods in Playoff basketball, and a couple referee-driven foulfests will make the results closer. Still, take the Phoenix Suns in six games.