Suns must set tempo to combat Clippers' inside threat

Updated: May 8, 2006, 2:24 PM ET
Associated Press

PHOENIX -- The Phoenix Suns face a whole new set of problems against that "other" team from Los Angeles.

Just 48 hours after dispatching the Lakers in a Game 7 first-round blowout, the Suns play the Clippers on Monday night in the opener of their best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series.

"They're a totally different team than the Lakers," newly crowned MVP Steve Nash said. "We'll face a whole new set of challenges and problems with them. But we've got to have the same mental attitude and toughness that we developed in the Lakers series."

The Clippers have not played in a week after eliminating the Denver Nuggets in five games.

"It's been good from a standpoint that we had some guys injured," Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. "It was probably a little longer than we would have liked."

The Suns got a chance to rest their starters late in Saturday night's 121-90 rout of the Lakers, a triumph that made Phoenix the eighth team to rally from a 3-1 deficit to advance.

The teams split their regular-season series 2-2, and the small Phoenix front line has had problems with the inside threat of Elton Brand and Chris Kaman.

"I think the key to the series is going to be tempo," Brand said, echoing his coach and teammates. "They're a dangerous team. Nash is the main key [but] they have a whole set of keys on that ring. They're very quick, they're very athletic, they move around very well, offensively and defensively."

The Suns will send 6-foot-8 Boris Diaw against the 7-foot Kaman, with 6-7 Shawn Marion -- as usual -- playing someone larger in the 6-8, 254-pound Brand.

"They're going to post up Elton as much as they can and Kaman when they can, and the other guys will play off them," Nash said. "That's their advantage against every team, let alone a smaller team like us."

But the matchups can work in Phoenix's advantage at the other end of the floor, especially if the Suns play the game at the frenzied pace they like.

"If we can do what we do, we have a heck of a chance," said Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni, who served as an assistant to Dunleavy for one season in Portland. "If they can pound us, then that will be different. It's not a real secret here. If we move the ball and make shots, we'll be fine."

The Clippers have made opponents forget that this had always been a laughingstock of a franchise.

"I think Dunleavy and the whole crew over there did an unbelievable job," D'Antoni said. "They got rid of a lot of ghosts. I didn't doubt them. Mike's an unbelievable coach. They put together a great team and good players. They're going to be around a long time, so you might as well get used to them."

The Suns' players point to the arrival of veteran point guard Sam Cassell as the key new ingredient.

"I knew once they got Sam they were going to have a good chance with the guys they already have," Tim Thomas said. "Sam is a proven winner."

Nash recalled his rookie season as a teammate of Cassell with the Suns.

"I love Sam's game,"' Nash said. "He was the vet that brought me into the league in Phoenix when I was a rookie. We go way back. He taught me a lot. ... He obviously gives them experience. He's a champion, he's a winner and he's a terrific scoring point guard. He poses a lot of problems for us and gives them a lot of confidence and experience."

For the Suns, the plan is simple. Force turnovers, get out on the break and let Nash work his magic.

"I think they're in a good rhythm," Dunleavy said. "They're playing every other day. In the last three games, they scored 120 points [per game]. We have to figure out a way to throw some water on the fire. We have to figure out a way to cool them down."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press