A tip for the Clips: Slow the Suns' offense

Updated: May 10, 2006, 2:39 AM ET
Associated Press

PHOENIX -- The second game was a problem for the Phoenix Suns in the first round.

The way their offense has kicked in gear lately, their confidence is a whole lot higher going into this Game 2.

The Suns, averaging 122 points during their current four-game playoff winning streak, try to go up 2-0 on the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday night in the Western Conference semifinals.

"I'm sure we've strung together some high-scoring games this season," the Suns' Raja Bell said, "but the timeliness of these is pretty impressive. When we play like that, we're tough to beat, and we'll give ourselves a chance against anybody."

Phoenix lost at home to the Lakers 99-93 in Game 2 of the first round en route to falling behind 3-1 in the best-of-seven series. The Suns rebounded to win the next three, then withstood a 40-point effort by Elton Brand to beat the Clippers 130-123 in their second-round series opener Monday night.

The memory of that home loss to the Lakers remains fresh, though.

"We've got to learn from what happened to us in the first round," the Suns' Boris Diaw said. "We know that Game 2 is really, really important."

Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said his team's biggest problems didn't come from the 12 3-pointers by Phoenix's band of sharpshooters, but from driving layups.

"They weren't acceptable," he said. "It's hard to be so disciplined against this team, because that's their strength. They make you pay the price. If you told me coming into the game that we were going to shoot 60 percent and score 123 points, I would have thought they'd score less. Getting the ball inside was a good thing for us, the problem was we didn't take care of the defensive end."

Two-time MVP Steve Nash creates the problems with his uncanny knack of driving through traffic, then either finding the open man outside or scoring. Compounding the situation is Diaw's ever-improving ability to do the same, except with a 6-foot-8 frame.

Suns coach Mike D'Antoni has gone with essentially a seven-man rotation, and all of them played well on Monday.

"That's the beauty of it," Nash said. "You need to move the ball, you need to move bodies, you need to be intelligent, creative, make shots, be skillful. We're playing at a high level offensively the last few games."

Diaw and speedy Leandro Barbosa, both just 23 years old, have played the best of their young careers in the last few games.

"Spreading the floor, a lot of that has to do with Boris and L.B.," D'Antoni said. "When they can penetrate and cut and we keep our spacing, then we're good."

D'Antoni said the team's offensive high-speed precision Monday night was "as good as I've been associated with."

"Just ball movement, not hesitating, going to the basket, finding the open guy," he said, "having patience, knowing when to come, when not to come."

While the Clippers failed to slow the Suns, Phoenix couldn't handle Brand, either. He made 18 of 22 shots, and most of them weren't easy ones.

"I'm not looking to score 40 again," he said, "but if it happens, it happens. I'm looking to win the ball game. If they come with two or three guys this time, other guys are going to have to step up. But our defense is the main thing. Even myself, I'm disappointed in my defensive effort and the situations we were put in, and our rotations."

The Clippers, winners of a playoff series for the first time in 30 years, know they have the offense to beat the Suns. It's the defensive matchups that cause them fits.

"It's a difficult matchup for us," Clippers center Chris Kaman said. "We've got some guys who play pretty good defense, and then some guys who aren't fast enough to keep up, including myself."

Phoenix is 5-0 when scoring at least 100 points in this postseason.

"Keeping them under 100 points is how the Lakers won," Brand said. "I don't know if it's possible for us, but we definitely need to keep it under 120."


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press