NBA: Spurs-Suns Preview Capsule
By BRIAN MAHONEY
AP Basketball Writer
A look at the Western Conference semifinal series between the Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs, which begins Monday (with regular-season and playoff records):
No. 3 PHOENIX SUNS (54-28, 4-2) vs. No. 7 SAN ANTONIO SPURS (50-32, 4-2).
Season series: Suns 2-1. Phoenix shredded San Antonio's defense, shooting better than 50 percent in all three meetings. The Suns averaged 112.7 points on 51 percent shooting against the Spurs for the season and won both games at home. Even San Antonio's victory came at Phoenix's preferred pace, pulling out a 113-110 home victory on Feb. 28 despite 41 points and 12 rebounds from Amare Stoudemire. Steve Nash averaged 20.3 points and 12 assists.
Storyline: Off to a strong start in a rare role as postseason underdogs after upsetting Dallas in the first round, the Spurs now get a chance to deal more misery to Phoenix. San Antonio has ruined plenty of recent seasons for the Suns, eliminating them in 2005, 2007 and 2008.
Key Matchup 1: Stoudemire vs. Tim Duncan. With Duncan nearing the end of a career that will land him in the Hall of Fame, Stoudemire may have supplanted him as the premier power forward in the Western Conference. Even Duncan couldn't handle him this season, as Stoudemire averaged 32.7 points and 11.3 rebounds in the series. Duncan did have a pair of double-doubles, including a 34-point, 14-rebound performance in the Suns' 116-104 victory on Dec. 15.
Key Matchup II: Grant Hill vs. Richard Jefferson. Hill, whom the Spurs wanted to sign a few years ago, scored 17 points in both Phoenix wins but was held to just six in the lone San Antonio victory. Jefferson, so disappointing for much of the season that he was a reserve in the February matchup, has played better late in the season and that was the also the case against Phoenix. Held to four points in the first meeting, he scored 20 and 17 in the last two.
X-Factor: Jason Richardson. Comes into this series on a roll after averaging 23.5 points on 53 percent shooting in the first-round victory over Portland. He hurt the Spurs during the regular season, scoring 20 points in each of the last two meetings while making 15-of-26 shots.
Prediction: Spurs in 6.