The running joke all week with Suns coach Alvin Gentry has been about the revenge factor. He was asked about it before the Suns traveled to Portland for a rematch with the Trail Blazers and continued to be asked this week if the San Antonio Spurs would have vengeance in their hearts over their playoff sweep by the Suns last season. Gentry, who loves a good joke as much as anyone, continued with it today.
"Oh yeah, it's got to be a revenge game. I know Pop (Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich) has probably been sitting around the whole summer thinking about this game and marking it on his calendar. I know he's had this circled for a long time on his calendar," Gentry dead-panned before adding, "Heck no, of course not. It's the fourth game of the year! It's just another game that we're playing (against) a very good team."
The reality, according to Gentry, is that players and coaches don't make nearly as much of these types of things as fans and media and he wasn't even willing to call the Suns-Spurs "rivalry" a legit two-way grudge since Phoenix has only beaten San Antonio in the playoffs one time. On to tonight's game.
The biggest changes for the Spurs this season according to Gentry (and most other league observers) are the improved aggressive play of former Arizona Wildcat Richard Jefferson and the quality minutes Popovich is getting from his rookie guards Gary Neal and James Anderson.
"They're going about 10 deep and playing a lot of guys and trying to get Tim (Duncan) and Manu (Ginobili) and those guys rest so they have a lot of energy to finish the game," Gentry said.
The Spurs team still revolves around 34-year-old Tim Duncan, despite his decreased minutes so far this season. Duncan is averaging a career low 30 minutes per game through their first three games and, as a result, his rebounding and scoring numbers are down a bit, as well.
The Spurs front court is relying on veteran Antonio McDyess (21 minutes per game) and second-year rebounding machine DeJuan Blair (26 minutes per game). Matt Bonner is sidelined with an ankle injury and Brazilian import Tiago Splitter played only 10 minutes in his first NBA action this week against the Clippers.
Those front court matchups with be key for the Suns this game. We can expect to see Robin Lopez trying to limit Duncan's effectiveness on both ends and perhaps try and take advantage of him a bit in the pick and roll while Hedo Turkoglu, playing out of position, gets to bang with the physical Blair.
"He's strong and big. As usual, another big body that I have to really focus on. He's really good on the rebounding. I have to do my job earlier than I will do most of the time (so) that I will keep him off the boards, even though if I don't get (the rebound), if I can box him out and just let my teammates get it, not him," Turkoglu said about the matchup.
On the other end of the floor, however, the Suns feel like they can expose Blair's lack of mobility by pulling him out of the lane and forcing him to defend on the perimeter.
"For us, we got to try and take advantage of having him come out on the floor and guard Hedo or Hakim (Warrick) or one of those guys like that," Gentry said of the defensive mismatches his team presents the Spurs.
For the Spurs looking at this Suns team, they are seeing some differences, but a lot of the same things they are used to. Tim Duncan explains.
"Obviously, they lose an All-Star in Amare (Stoudemire), the center over there in their pick and roll offense with Steve (Nash), so they look a bit different. But you look at them on game film and they're doing the exact same stuff. They're pushing the tempo, they're shooting the three-ball, they're using the pick and rolls. Steve's in control of the offense and everything that goes on, so some has changed and a lot's stayed the same."
One thing that the Spurs (and the rest of us) might start seeing more of is Hedo Turkoglu being more active as a ball-handler. He said that he's been working on running the pick and roll with Robin Lopez in the half court and will bring the ball up in transition off rebounds.
The Spurs will be without backup guard George Hill, who was injured by a hard foul delivered by Clippers forward Craig Smith. Hill has muscle spasms in his right trapezius. The Suns will have all their players available, including Josh Childress, who continues to play despite a broken index finger on his shooting hand.