With four games remaining in the regular season, the Phoenix Suns have control of their own destiny, as far as making the playoffs is concerned. The Phoenix Suns eye a series split versus the Spurs, as they face off tonight in San Antonio. The Suns have caught a bit of a break, as both Tony Parker and Tim Duncan are not expected to play, but the Spurs are no strangers to playing without their key starters.
The Spurs have gone 2-1 without Tim Duncan and Tony Parker this year, beating both Golden State and Portland. However, this is still a game that the Suns should expect to win, as long as they push the tempo and make San Antonio work for each of their shots. Should the Suns get the win, they will have won half of their games against San Antonio, which they have not done in the regular season since 2009-2010. What else happened that year? The Suns went on to sweep the Spurs in the playoffs and reach the Western Conference Finals.
Gerald Green versus Kawhi Leonard. The Suns are 17-7 when Gerald Green scores at least 20 points, which he has not done against the Spurs this year. However, during the Suns’ three game winning streak Green has averaged 25.7 points per game, shooting 61.9% from behind the three point line.
Conversely, Kawhi Leonard is coming off of a stretch where he has scored double figures in eight consecutive games, which he has only done two other times in his career (in the regular season). If Green can force Leonard to expend all his energy on the defensive end, the Suns should be in good shape.
What the Suns offense needs to focus on:
Driving to the rim. Without two key starters the Spurs are already going to be stretched thin. If the Suns can attack the rim and get the Spurs into foul trouble, they could make the game a lot easier for themselves. This will be no easy task, as the Spurs commit the fewest fouls per game in the NBA, but a big part of that is having key veterans in the lineup.
Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic will be key, as they need to attack the rim early, rather than settling for the three-point jumper. If they can get easy transition opportunities and get into the bonus early, the Suns will take control of the game and win by a fairly comfortable margin.
What the Suns defense needs to focus on:
Patty Mills. The obvious choice here would be to say Kawhi Leonard, but Patty Mills has stepped up in the past when Duncan and Parker have been out. This season Mills is averaging 21.7 points and 4.3 rebounds per game when the two stars are on the bench. Patty Mills is coming off of a spectacular outing against Dallas, where he posted 26 points and six assists, and his sharpshooting ability could be a problem for the Suns.
In the last ten games Mills is shooting a scorching 55.6% from beyond the arc. Mills averages over 35 minutes per game when starting, meaning that the Suns will really need to dial in and stay with the Australian point guard throughout the course of the game.
The Suns win 104-98 after withstanding a late run from San Antonio.