[Western Conference Semifinals]
Phoenix Suns face San Antonio Spurs in Western Conference semifinals
Why the Suns can win: There is obvious concern in Phoenix over Steve Nash's right hip, but with an inspired and confident bench the Suns still were able to hold off pesky Portland without him at his best. In three games against the Spurs this season, Nash averaged 20.3 points and 12 assists, directing an up-tempo offense that averaged 112.7 points and shot 51 percent and won both games at home. Amare Stoudemire has always been a matchup problem for Tim Duncan and should continue to cause problems for the Spurs with Duncan on the down side of his career. Grant Hill refuses to age, as evidenced by his impressive block on Portland's Jerryd Bayless, but he again will have to put his defensive skills to the test against Manu Ginóbili. In previous playoff series losses to San Antonio in 2005 and 2007, the Suns failed in trying to outrun the Spurs, but after losing in 2008 with Shaquille O'Neal and going back to their vaunted running game, Phoenix might find a Spurs team that really can't keep up this time.
Why the Spurs can win: They are the first No. 7 seed to ever win a best-of-seven series after knocking off second-seeded Dallas, but the Spurs can never be considered a true underdog with a coach (Gregg Popovich) and big man (Duncan) who have won four championships. Ginóbili proved to be an effective scorer, averaging 19 points against Dallas despite suffering a broken nose. But the Spurs found a spark in second-year guard George Hill, who has supported Popovich's confidence in starting him over Tony Parker by scoring 29 points in Game 4 and adding 21 in the decisive Game 6.
Difference maker: Jason Richardson, Suns. Richardson had a surprising breakout performance against Portland, as he led the Suns in scoring at 23.5 points. But the ninth-year veteran also served as a barometer of the Suns wins and losses, as he averaged 28 points and shot 60 percent in the four wins and averaged 14.5 points and shot 36 percent in the two losses.
Bottom line: Spurs in six
-- Michael Lee
Monday: at Phoenix, 10:30
Wednesday: at Phoenix, 9
Friday: at San Antonio, 9:30
Sunday: at San Antonio, 8
x-May 11: at Phoenix, TBD
x-May 13: at San Antonio, TBD
x-May 16: at Phoenix, TBD