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Wednesday, April 30, 2003
How Suns can survive Spurs in Game 6

By Dr. Jack Ramsay
Special to

Editor's note: Four teams face elimination on Thursday in Game 6 of their respective first-round playoff series. ESPN's Dr. Jack Ramsay pays a housecall to prescribe advice for one of those teams, the ...

... Phoenix Suns.

The Symptoms
The Suns trail 3-2 in their series against the Spurs and face elimination from the playoffs with another loss on Thursday. They've demonstrated the capacity to win, but must get their "A" game in place in Game 6 to stay alive.

The Diagnosis
The Suns have focused their defense on quick-trapping Tim Duncan at the post in order to get the ball out of his hands. It's worked to some degree. Duncan is averaging 19.4 points a game and gives about four assists against the same number of turnovers. But the pressing D has also opened up high-percentage scores for the Spurs' big men (David Robinson and Malik Rose) and some wide-open looks for their jump shooters (Tony Parker, Bruce Bowen, Stephen Jackson and Manu Ginobili). The Suns have forced turnovers with that pressure -- a Spurs weakness -- that has quickened the pace of the game in their favor.

On offense, the Suns give the ball to Stephon Marbury and let him create play-action. Marbury although injured, is still very dangerous. With high-post screens, Marbury will turn the corner and get to the hoop or find open teammates for high-percentage shots.

Tim Duncan
The Suns must make Tim Duncan guess where their trap is coming.
Although Amare Stoudemire is a bull in the basket area and Shawn Marion is a quick-off-the-floor rebounder, the Suns are losing the battle of the boards by an average of eight rebounds a game.

The Cure
Trapping Duncan is a sound tactic, but the Suns need to vary their schemes so that they're not so predictable. Duncan knows where the traps are coming from and how the defense shifts to cover the openings. The Suns need to change it up, so that Duncan has more decisions to make. The Suns can't allow Robinson and Rose to get unobstructed scores. Rotations to perimeter shooters must also be made quicker and with more certainty. The shots the Suns are giving up are too good.

But I wouldn't abandon the pressure defense. It continues to get the Suns back in games when they fall behind, and it has been responsible for their two wins. It also appears to be a good strategy to foul the Spurs -- especially Bowen -- rather than give them a chance to score down the stretch. Turnovers and free-throw shooting are the Spurs most glaring weaknesses.

Marbury, Marion and Stoudemire need scoring and rebounding help. It's time for Penny Hardaway, Joe Johnson, Scott Williams, Jake Voskuhl and Bo Outlaw to give them a lift.

Dr. Jack Ramsay, who is an NBA analyst for ESPN, is a regular contributor to