PHOENIX — With the way things looked in December and January, it’s actually kind of incredible that the Suns are where they are, a three seed with what is probably the most favorable matchup in the NBA playoffs.
The overachieving Suns will look to continue their winning ways in Game 1 againt the Trail Blazers, but they now face the pressure of being a favorite rather than an underdog.
Though their status in print or on TV doesn’t seem like it will be an issue for the Suns.
“Right now, it doesn’t matter if you write about it or say it,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said at practice Friday. “It’s all about what you do on the court. That’s why I never worry about that stuff.”
The Suns did what they needed to do to start on their home court, where they are 32-9. Taking Game 1 of this series is crucial to setting the tone of the series.
“It’s like a whole new season,” Gentry said. “It’s 0-0 right now. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done.”
Keys to the game
Get used to hearing this, because it will be talked about a lot. It’s no secret that the Trail Blazers win games by controlling the tempo and playing at their own pace. That’s essentially how they took two out of three regular season games against the Suns.
The Trail Blazers are generally able to force opponents to their pace, and the Suns’ offense does not work there. The Suns are most efficient when they are able to play at the speed they want and force their opponent to that level.
The Suns will need to be aggressive on defense to stop Portland from running the clock and slowing the game.
“They do a good job of stringing out possessions,” Gentry said. “They play the way they have to to win.”
Mostly every player and coach on the Suns will tell you that controlling the tempo is key to this series. The Suns need to assert their pace right from the start.
Rest assured that the Sun are not taking this series lightly. Even without Brandon Roy, the Trail Blazers pose a huge offensive threat.
“They’re a good team,” Gentry said. “We know that. They wouldn’t be in the playoffs if they weren’t.”
Yes, Roy was the epicenter of Portland’s scoring ability. But Portland is a deep team with a lot of guys ready to step up and score. The Suns have to play the surprising defense they have played at times during this season and throttle the Trail Blazers’ offense.
Portland is the kind of team that cashes in opportunities right away, so any open shot, open drive or free throw opportunity will likely hurt the Suns. Thus, they cannot allow the Portland offense to take over this game.
If I were a Portland scout, my head would be spinning trying to figure out where to focus my team’s efforts in this series. There are so many things to think about. But in the end, I would settle on.
Nash is the Suns’ engine. He drives this team. He makes everyone around him better. Nash is the guy who is going to make plays happen for the Suns, but not if the Portland defense shuts him down.
We’ve seen it happen. Chicago did it in Phoenix. The Lakers do it almost every time they play the Suns. Even scrub teams like the Pistons have done it. If a team can stop Nash and not let him run the offense, their chances of winning increase significantly. Nash will need everyone around him playing well so Portland has to spread the defensive focus and give him the opportunity to do his thing.
The Suns went 11-2 on Sundays this season, including a perfect 7-0 mark at home. The Suns even beat the Blazers in a March 21 Sunday night home game. … The Suns and Blazers have split six series all-time, and the winner has taken Game 1 each time. … The team with home-court advantage has won every series between these two teams, except for the 1984 series won by the underdog Suns. They last met up in a 1999 first-round series won by the Blazers. … The Suns are 26-26 all-time in Game 1s and 18-7 in series-opening games in Phoenix. … Portland has lost five straight Game 1s. … The Suns have held their last six opponents to an average of 40.3 percent shooting.