By John Hollinger
PHOENIX – You won’t see any greater contrast in styles than the Blazers-Suns series offers. Portland is the ultimate walk-it-up, grind-it-out squad, playing the NBA’s slowest pace in 2009-10 after laying the second-slowest a year earlier. Phoenix, meanwhile, is home of the seven-seconds-or-less approach, and while the Suns aren’t quite as frenetic as they used to be, they still ranked fourth in the league in Pace Factor.
“We’re going to try to push the pace,” said Suns coach Alvin Gentry. “They're going to try to slow the pace. It’s just going to be a battle of wills and philosophy.”
Pace promises to be a major issue in this series for two other reasons: 1) Postseason games tend to be played at a slower pace, and 2) the Blazers completely controlled the tempo on the teams’ three regular-season meetings, a big reason Portland won the regular-season series 2-1.
The Pace Factor for their three meetings, 91.2, was typical for a Blazer game but far slower than the norm for Phoenix.
Believe it or not, the Blazers had more fast-break points than Phoenix in two of the three games, and on the season series limited Phoenix to 34 fast-break points (Portland had 31); the Suns scored 16.0 fast-break points per game, good for 6th in the league, for the season.
Portland was among the league’s best defending the break, however, allowing only 11.2 fast-break points per game That stat is particularly impressive given how hard the team crashed the offensive boards, ranking fourth in Offensive Rebound Rate.
Despite that difference, the Suns don’t seem too worried about a slower tempo.
“We had an opportunity to win all of them,” said Suns coach Alvin Gentry of the three regular-season meetings. “We're up 15 at their place and just didn't play very good, didn't shoot well in the fourth quarter. [In Phoenix] we played at a fast pace and didn't make any shots. So we're going to try to get the pace of the game up, but with Amare and some of the other guys we can play a halfcourt game. We've done that a bunch of times this year and been pretty successful."
“We’ve won in different ways this year,” said Suns guard Steve Nash, who will be the main orchestrator of any transition forays by Phoenix. “We’re not the same team we used to be. We used to be an explosive team in the open floor and relied on 3-point shots and points in transition. Now we can win different ways. We have better size and we’re better defensively. Adding those elements to our team has given us an opportunity to win games in different ways."
Phoenix will get its first test of that philosophy Sunday night when the series tips off against a Portland team playing without Brandon Roy. The Suns have already lost to Portland once in a game Roy didn't play, on Feb. 10 in Phoenix. That game was the fastest-paced of the three, but the Suns had 15 turnovers and surrendered 58.4% shooting to Portland.
All of which underlines the Suns' contention: Pushing the pace will be helpful, but making shots will be a much greater harbinger of victory.