Scouting the Phoenix Suns: Ugh … Steve Nash

By Quixem Ramirez

Offensive rating: Spurs – 106.0 (3rd), Suns – 102.2 (15th)Defensive rating: Spurs – 101.5 (14th), Suns – 103.2 (19th)Pace: Spurs – 94.4 (11th), Suns – 94.6 (9th)Time: 9 p.m.TV: FSNSWRadio: WOAI-AM 1200, KCOR-AM 1350

Three things to watch

Streaking Suns. The Phoenix Suns are 1.5 games behind the Houston Rockets and, improbably, have jumped into the playoff picture. Phoenix has the second best post-All Star game record (11-4) and is 10-2 in their last 12 games. In this span, Phoenix has scored a blistering 103.1 per game and their two losses were by a combined five points. Despite their advanced age (29.2 years) and failing front office — really, look at how the team is currently constructed and how they couldn’t build a dynasty around Joe Johnson, Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion, Leandro Barbosa and tell me that makes sense with a straight face — Phoenix is playing exceptional (offensive) basketball. While tanking and unloading Nash might be their bet, there has to be something said for a group of veterans playing hard regardless of standing.

Mar. 14, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash (13) talks with teammate Marcin Gortat (4) while playing against the Utah Jazz during the first half at the US Airways Center. The Suns defeated the Jazz 120-111. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE.

Nash-Gortat pick-and-roll. I think Orlando could’ve used this guy unless you believe that Gortat is merely feeding off Nash. Nash is No. 1 in the NBA with 11.2 assists per game and owns an unreal 79.0 assist rate. His perspicacious passing ability and Gortat’s cadence (also see: Splitter, Tiago) on pick-and-rolls forms a legitimate duo. Nash is a threat to score on any spot on the floor making it very difficult to simultaneously contain Gortat. With Nash at the helm, Gortat has made 58.1 percent of his shots (includes 2-pointers, 3-pointers and free throws) and has benefited from an assist 78.9 percent of the time. The Spurs don’t exactly defend pick-and-rolls well and that plays into Gortat’s favor. In his last game against San Antonio, Gortat scored 24 points on 11-of-20 shooting (4-of-6 at the rim) and grabbed 15 rebounds.

Points in the paint. In their last four games, the Spurs have scored 50-plus points in the paint. A cutting Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and proper floor spacing make it very easy for the Spurs to dominate in this regard. Phoenix is 26th in attempts at the rim (25.8 percent of their shots are at the rim) and Gortat is the only Sun that gets to the rim at an above-average rate. They do convert a high percentage of their opportunities, though. It’s just a matter of being more aggressive and not succumbing to the long 2-point jumper. The Spurs will, once again, hold a definitive advantage over a jump shot happy Phoenix team.

Final verdict. Spurs by three. Phoenix is playing well at home, it’s the Spurs fourth game in five nights and I’m genuinely worried about the Nash-Gortat pick-and-roll. I just don’t see Phoenix protecting the rim and playing strong enough defense to contain the vaunted Spurs offense.