Western Conference Finals Preview
Suns (2) vs. Mavericks (4)
This series is a rematch of the competitive Conf. Semi-Finals from last year with one key difference--no Amare this year. Last year, I thought the Mavs were more successful when they attacked the weak interior defense of the Suns. I thought they lost the series because they settled for jumpers too much. Well, this year the Suns' interior defense is still awful, and the Mavs' defense is even better than it was last year. So I expect things to be different this year, and with Amare's injury, the West Conf. banner should be easier for the taking for the Mavs.
By now, everyone knows the linchpin of the Mavs' offense is Dirk. He is usually positioned around the free-throw line and he causes much damage from that area, no surprises about that. But in this series, I think he needs to get himself down in the post much more than he's ever had. The Suns' interior defense is as bad as any in the NBA, and Dirk is the best option that Dallas has for post scoring. I thought one of the things that cost the Mavs last year vs. the Suns, was that they did not attack the paint enough, and they settled for jumpers too much. Part of this problem was Dirk's refusal to take Marion down on the block. If Dirk wants to officially make the case for MVP, he needs to be willing to take Marion or Diaw down on the block a lot. Another angle that Avery has to use, is putting pressure on Nash on the defense end. This is where Harris needs to continue his dribble penetration that was so successful vs. the Spurs. All in all, the entire Mavs' unit needs to look to attack the paint more in this series. You know even some touches for Dampier in this series would not be a bad idea. I know he's not a post-up wonder, but the Suns did make Kwame Brown look like a borderline All-Star for most of the 1st round. Also, another aspect that Dallas can look to exploit is the offensive boards--the Mavs have two very good off. board men with Damp & Howard.
Defensively for Dallas, I think its the same script that every team should have vs. Phoenix--get them off the 3pt.-line at all costs. I am a big proponent of sacrificing some easy two-pointers, in exchange for discouraging 3 pt. attempts from the Suns. The Suns are still just looking to outscore teams, not stop them, and they use the three to build up the point total. They need that extra point per possession from the 3pt. shot and the easy points on the fast break to offset their non-existent defense. Let Diaw shoot that 18-footer, give Marion that 10-foot floater, give Nash some open looks inside 22 feet, -- just don't let them even attempt 3pts. To go along with this idea, you have to temper your doubles and help rotations when playing the Suns. The Suns are just dying for you to help and come off their shooters so they can pitch out for a 3. You have to recognize and sometimes restrain yourself from what would normally be the right thing to do defensively vs. the Suns. Maybe give up an easy lay-up sometimes, just don't let them get good looks from 3. The Clippers did a terrible job of this for most of the series, and it crushed them. I bet Avery throws Howard & Daniels on Nash quite bit in this series, length has bothered Nash before, with Ross & Bowen as prime examples. It will be interesting to see what type of line-ups that Avery goes with vs. the Suns. I think he can put Damp on Diaw quite a bit, and let Diaw shoot when he wants to.
For the Suns offensively, I don't expect too many adjustments and it should be the same gameplan as always--jack up as many threes as possible and try to lull Dallas into a helter-skelter pace. I think the Suns could tease the Mavs into this type of run-n-gun style, cause I think the Dallas guards really want to play this way. I imagine when Dampier or Diop are in the game, the Suns will try to run more high pick/rolls with them. I also expect the Suns to try to get Diaw & Tim Thomas switched onto the Dallas guards in pick/rolls, and to see how Dallas reacts defensively--see if they make the same miscues that haunted the Clips.
When talking about defense with the Suns, you have use the term loosely. Even so, I think the Suns match up pretty well with the Mavs (even better than the Clips or the Spurs), cause the Mavs don't really have a natural post presence. The Suns' interior defense is always ripe for the picking, but it will be interesting to see how often the Mavs try to attack it. Suns should get into scramble mode quite a bit, to see if they can create turnovers leading to fast breaks. I don't think the Suns really need to double as much in this series. I think Marion & Diaw can handle Dirk one-on-one on the perimeter, but I am not sure how they handle him if he chooses to go down low. I feel the Suns just match-up well with the Mavs' guards, and have the athleticism to neutralize them on the perimeter, if they really want to. But that's sort of the key question with the Suns, will they even put in much effort defensively.
I think the Suns have a great shot in the series, much better than if they had to play the Spurs, cause the Mavs really don't have a dominant post presence. Even though Dallas is quite successful getting the majority of their offense on the perimeter, they really need to mix in a fair amount of interior looks. The Mavs just need to take care of the ball and not rush up bad shots, because the Suns will ultimately let you shoot a high percentage. Also, when the Mavs do miss some of their shots, they will be given ample opportunity to get second chance points vs. the poor rebounding Suns. The Mavs just came off a series where they constantly beat the Spurs on the boards, so this series should be a piece of cake. I feel the only way that the Suns can pull off this series is if they go ballastic from 3pt. land, which is not that out of the question. I just think that the Mavs will do enough of an adequate job defending the 3pt. line for victory. MAVS IN 7