TrueHoop: Zydrunas Ilgauskas

Heat get offensive on the glass for big lead

April, 22, 2011
By ESPN Stats & Info
The Miami Heat beat the Philadelphia 76ers 100-94 Thursday to take a 3-0 lead in their best-of-seven series. Miami improves to 6-0 this season against the Sixers, who have lost six consecutive postseason games.

The Heat set a franchise playoff record with 20 offensive rebounds, netting them 24 second-chance points. They averaged 14.5 second-chance points in the first two games of the series and had just one game during the regular season in which they exceeded 24.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas had eight offensive rebounds -- just three fewer than the entire Sixers team -- and none on the defensive glass. LeBron James had only one offensive board but had 15 total rebounds to go with his 24 points and six assists.

Dwyane Wade may have been the star for the Heat, finishing with 32 points, 10 rebounds (four offensive) and eight assists, his third career 30-10 game in the playoffs. Wade is the sixth player in the past 20 seasons to go for 30 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in a road playoff game.

He accounted for HALF of his team’s points, a big improvement over his performance in the first two games of the series.

Combined, James, Wade and Chris Bosh scored 75 of Miami’s 100 points. They also combined for 15 assists, meaning they actually produced more than 100 percent of the team’s offense Thursday, combining for 108 points created.

Heat good against bad teams

November, 13, 2010
By ESPN Stats & Info
It's only a 10-game sample, but it's the first 10 games of the season.

Thus far, the Miami Heat have proven they can beat bad teams, but still struggle with good clubs.

With their win over the now 2-8 Toronto Raptors, the Heat's six wins this season have come against teams (76ers, Magic, Nets twice, Timberwolves and Raptors) that are a combined 16-32.

The only team Miami has defeated that currently has a winning record is the Magic, who are 6-3.

Their four losses are against three teams (Boston twice, New Orleans and Utah) that are a combined 22-5.
One new look on Saturday was inserting center Zydrunas Ilgauskas into the starting lineup in place of Joel Anthony. With the starting lineup of Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, LeBron James, Carlos Arroyo and Zydrunas Ilgauskas on the floor, the Heat were +9 against the Raptors and shot 61.9 percent in 11 minutes, 34 seconds.

In the 31 minutes this season these five players have been on the court, the Heat are shooting 57.1 percent from the floor and averaging 108.4 points per 48 minutes. When any other lineup is on the court, Miami is shooting 46.5 percent and averaging 101.2 points per 48 minutes.

Wade is averaging 26.5 points per game in the Heat's wins this season, shooting 56.6 percent from the field. In their four losses, Wade is still averaging 22.0 PPG, but has shot just 37.3 percent from the field (25-67).

James had a game-high 11 assists. His main beneficiaries were the Heat's outside shooting big men, Ilgauskas and Udonis Haslem. James assisted on all four of Haslem's field goals and four of Ilgauskas' six.

From the Elias Sports Bureau: The Heat have outscored opponents by 5.2 points per game thus far when the Big 3 are on the floor.

What to expect from the 4-0 Hornets

November, 4, 2010
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
Chris Paul
Layne Murdoch/NBAE/Getty Images
After some easy Ws, Dwyane Wade and company will have their hands full with Chris Paul.

Editor’s note: This is another installment of Hoop Schemes, in which TrueHoop editor Kevin Arnovitz takes apart NBA strategy and puts it under a microscope.

You've seen the New Orleans Hornets run it thousands of times since Chris Paul arrived in the Big Easy:

The high pick-and-roll.

The Hornets' rendition of this scheme is one of the most lethal in basketball, a menacing play that even the league's most capable defenses have trouble containing.

"It's a very, very tough offensive set," Dwyane Wade said. "They can run it the whole game and it would be tough to guard."

To review: One of the Hornets' big men -- usually power forward David West, center Emeka Okafor or, this season, forward Jason Smith -- steps up to provide a strong pick for Paul. This action ignites Paul and gets the Hornets into their half-court offense.

Then all hell breaks loose.

"[Paul] can find any kind of small crack and he can make any kind of play," Erik Spoelstra said. "He’s the great equalizer because he breaks your defense down."

Paul's brilliance stems from more than just his speed with the ball and his capacity to squirt through those openings. In addition to probing the defense, Paul's talent gives him a bevy of choices in the half court. Virtually every team in the league runs some variation of the 1-4 middle pick-and-roll. What makes New Orleans' so special is that range of possibilities defenses have to account for.

“He can create so many options off that pick-and-roll," center Joel Anthony said. "It’s definitely a team effort with that 4-man and that 1-man really containing him on that pick-and-roll. Then after that, there’s a rotation. That’s what buys us time to make the right coverage as a team. But it isn’t much time.”

Even with the most aggressive trap, Paul's size and speed allow him split the defenders off that pick-and-roll. When that happens, the Hornets essentially have a 4-on-3 advantage because both Paul's on-ball defender and the guy guarding the screener have been left in the dust. Paul now has a full menu of options. He can burst ahead, beating help defenders to the rim for an easy layup. If the designated rotator -- usually the opposing center -- collapses on Paul in the lane, then there's a good chance David West is hanging out at 17 feet ready for a flip pass from Paul. But if that rotating center has committed to West, then who's guarding Okafor? Remember those epic alley-oops from Paul to Tyson Chandler back in the day? Those were often the result of Chandler's man picking up West at the foul-line extended. Okafor doesn't have Chandler's springs, but there's a reason his field-goal percentage as a Hornet under Paul is well above 50 percent.

As the Heat's power forward, Chris Bosh figures to spend a lot of time at the top of the floor deterring Paul from penetrating. As that big man on the trap, there's absolutely no time for deliberation.

"If you get caught off-guard and are kind of late just a little bit, they’re too good for that," Bosh said. "Chris Paul is one of the best playmakers in the league. So you can’t really give him any room. Our pick-and-roll coverage has to be good tomorrow to contain him. You have to limit his vision If he comes off and you give him options, he’s going to tear you apart.”

Heat center Zydrunas Ilgauskas has been studying coverages since the Lithuanian national team was wearing tie-dyes. A dozen years into his NBA career, Big Z still recognizes how difficult this stuff is to defend. As the 5 man, Ilgauskas is often charged with the responsibility of making those split-second decisions. Does he collapse on Paul? Does he rotate onto an open West? Does he hang back to ensure Okafor isn't open for a simple pass from Paul, who can find anyone, anywhere on the floor?

"You have to start working your way out and start shrinking the floor just in case [Paul] splits the pick-and-roll or there’s a drive straight through the middle if he rejects the pick-and-roll," Ilgauskas said. "You also have to be ready to rotate onto the 4 for the pick-and-pop in case our 4 gets stuck on the pick-and-roll. In your mind, you also have to keep your body on Okafor. You can’t forget about him because he’s really good at ducking in and taking up space. And that’s where you help comes from your teammates. Another guy has to come down to help if Okafor is ducking and you have to rotate out.

To complicate matters even further, the Hornets' 5 man will often pin the rotator, rendering a guy like Ilgauskas or Anthony helpless to do much of anything. This buys an acre of real estate in open space for West or Smith for their mid-ranger jumper. West has parlayed that face-up jumper into two All-Star selections, in no small part because Paul has a preternatural sense of where West is on the floor at any given moment.

And what if the defense and rotations on Paul, West and Okafor are air tight?

"They also stretch the floor with shooters coming around," Wade said.

Fortunately for the Heat, that roster of shooters includes Marco Belinelli, Trevor Ariza, Marcus Thornton and Willie Green. These guys aren't chopped liver, but nobody will mistake them for Mike D'Antoni's Phoenix Suns teams.

The Heat have built a gaudy defensive rating of 87.9 points per 100 possessions, but they've compiled that total against some abject offensive squads. On Friday night, they'll confront the league's best point guard whose competitive edge and ability to create can challenge the Heat's mettle. Of course, the Heat still have an uncanny ability to blanket the court from arc to rim.

"I think we have the athletes to cover it," Wade said. "But it’s not going to be an easy task at all.”

Marc Stein writes:

A couple notes of clarification on the prospect of Golden State dealing Stephen Jackson to Cleveland in a swap featuring Zydrunas Ilgauskas, as introduced earlier Friday in this piece from the Contra Costa Times and brought to our attention, as always, by the boys at HoopsHype:

  • Multiple plugged-in sources insist that these are not active discussions. It's no secret that the Warriors did make several calls before the season to gauge Captain Jack's value after Jackson's bombshell about wanting to be dealt to the Cavs, Knicks or one of the three Texas teams. But Golden State's talks with Cleveland were "nothing substantive," according to one source.
  • As our man Brian Windhorst of the Cleveland Plain Dealer succinctly explained today via his Twitter feed, Cleveland's willingness to take on even more salary in trades than it already has does not mean that the Cavs are prepared to surrender a big man in the exchange unless they get a certifiable "star" back. Reason being: Cleveland knows it needs extra size if it wants to get past Orlando and Boston in the East and the Lakers in a theoretical Finals matchup.
  • A theoretical Cavs-Warriors deal headlined by Jackson and Ilgauskas -- who's in the final year of his contract at $11.5 million -- would only provide Golden State with payroll relief. That's a big deal, but the Warriors would ideally like to bring back at least one player for the future (with a reasonable contract) if they're going to part with someone as important as Jackson, whereas I get the feeling that Cleveland is likely only willing to part with the likes of Daniel Gibson or Delonte West in addition to Ilgauskas.
  • The reality remains that moving Jackson is going to be very difficult for the Warriors even if they decide they want to ship him out because his three-year, $27.8 million extension doesn't even kick in until next season. But the sense I get is that they're not pushing hard for a deal right now. It's simply too early in the season. In a month or three, maybe Cleveland or some other contender might be desperate (or at least looking) to add a difference-maker like Jackson. No team, in this economic climate, is going to absorb that sort of salary commitment before we even get to mid-October.

All signs strongly point to Captain Jack starting the season with the Dubs. 

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

Think about all the things you'd want offensively if you were constructing an NBA team from scratch. You'd start with a dominant big man who's unguardable if he catches the ball within seven feet of the basket. You'd surround him with long-range shooters so that he'll always have an outlet if the defense collapses on him. Those ingredients would probably get you to respectability, but let's be greedy for a second. What if both wings and the power forward could act as interchangeable parts in a dizzying pick-and-roll scheme -- each of them capable of handling the ball, making good passes in the halfcourt, and exploiting mismatches both in the post and off the dribble? If you could assemble a team like that, it would look a lot like the 2009 Orlando Magic.

When Orlando plays with an appreciation of their full offensive range, they're a bear to defend. For the first time in the series Sunday night, the Magic establish those assets out of the gate. Their first 10 possessions yield 16 points in 6:04. The sets are well-chosen, almost perfectly executed, and put to rest any fears that the dagger in Cleveland would have a lingering effect in Game 3. We see the complete breadth of the Magic's repertoire -- the deadly shooting, Dwight Howard's presence down low, the forwards' versatility, and the sharp pick-and-roll game.

Here's how it all starts in Game 3: 

Possession #1: Locate the mismatch
The small forward is the fulcrum of any basketball team. Most units feature two big men and two guards with relatively well-defined roles. The 3 man, though, comes in all shapes and sizes, with an elaborate array of skills. If the 3 can play big, the team can play big. If the 3 can shoot from the perimeter, chances are the squad can space the floor. If the 3 can pass the rock, then ball movement will probably be a strength, too.

In this sense, Turkoglu's versatility makes him invaluable to the Magic. Even when he's shooting horribly from the field, as he does in Game 3 (1-11 FGs), he forces the defense to make tough choices (which is how a 1-11 night can translate into a game-high +20). Defend Turkoglu like a traditional 6' 10" forward, and he'll assume ballhandling duties. Assign a smaller defender who can pressure him on the ball, and Turkoglu will exploit that size advantage, which is what he does here with Delonte West. Turkoglu posts up West out on the right wing. He faces up, then takes a quick dribble move toward the baseline to work himself some space to shoot over West. Turkoglu gets a very good look, but it's that kind of night. Still, you can't argue with looking for a mismatch to open the game.

Possession #2: Dwight Howard deep
Dwight Howard will continue to take grief for his rudimentary post game until he establishes a more expansive arsenal. There's every reason to believe we'll see this development over the next few years and it's going to be insanely fun to watch. Until that time, the Magic have one recourse -- get the ball to #12 deep, deep, deep in the paint. The easiest way to do this is in transition, where Howard can use his quickness to beat his man to the restricted circle, which is what he does here off Anderson Varejao's miss on the other end.

Howard barrels his way downcourt. Varejao meets him at the foul line, but Howard has too much forward momentum, and bulldozes Varejao some more before they settle about seven feet from the hoop. There's nothing artful about the play after Turkoglu feeds Howard with the pass. Howard takes an awkward dribble and struggles to bring the ball up to waist level, but he gets hacked and earns a trip to the line where he sinks one of two.

Howard finishes the game a respectable 14 for 19 from the stripe (74%). A more represenatative night from the foul line from Howard would've made for a much more stressful night in Orlando.

Possession #3: Ibid
Transition is one way to get Howard deep position beneath the basket, but pick-and-roll action is another. Alston (guarded by LeBron James) and Howard (guarded by Zydrunas Ilgauskas) run the pick-and-roll at the top of the key. When Howard gets his feet moving coming off the screen, he's able to push Ilgauskas south. Alston kicks the ball up top to Rashard Lewis, which gives Howard another second or two to buy himself even more real estate down low. By the time the pass comes to Howard, he's at the restricted circle. He takes a heavy drop step on the right side, then muscles his way up for a right-handed finish. 

Ilgauskas has always been a strong defender, but if you can turn the halfcourt into a dance floor, he's at a decided disadvantage against a quick opponent like Howard. Cleveland is paying for it, and it's a problem they can't always address with a double-team. 

Possession #4: Four out, one in
The combination of Howard and four cannons on the perimeter allows Orlando to space the floor as well as any team in basketball. The action starts with the Alston-Howard screen-roll. Ilgauskas makes a defensive adjustment this time around. He's not going to screw with Alston. Instead, Z sets himself defensively one step behind the foul line. That's the line of demarcation, and he will not allow Howard to get deeper than that, at least not on this possession.

Alston recognizes the adjustment, so he dishes the ball off to Rashard Lewis at the top of the arc. The ball doesn't stay with Lewis for long, because he keeps it moving left, over to Turkoglu. At this point, Howard is outside the paint at about 15 feet on the left wing, with Ilgauskas behind him. Turkoglu makes the entry pass into Howard, at which point James drops down to help. The instant he does, Howard kicks the ball out to Alston, whom James has left at the top of the arc. 

Three points.

If you're Cleveland, do you take your chances with Howard man-to-man at 15 feet? James arrives even before Howard invades the paint, which might be just a little too aggressive, unless you're certain you can cut off any pass to the perimeter, which is pretty ambitious.

Possession #5: Four out, one in -- transition edition
Off a Cavs' turnover, Howard bypasses the pick and instead beelines directly to the paint. Meanwhile the four Magic shooters fan out along the arc. Alston zips the ball into Howard off the left side of the paint against Varejao. West leaves Turkoglu at the top of the arc to double down on Howard. Rather than kicking the ball out, Howard opts to drive to the rim with his left shoulder and a couple of right-handed dribbles, before elevating for a shot attempt. Varejao commits his second foul, and Howard goes back to the line where he drains one of two.

Possession #6: Nasty drag-screen

As dangerous as LeBron James is with the ball in his hands, he's more lethal when he gets a running start and catches a pass in motion to the hoop with a full head of steam. The same is true for Dwight Howard.

Stan Van Gundy often points out that the Magic function most efficiently in transition, and this sequence is a smart illustration of that. Remember that adjustment Ilgauskas made on the screen-roll to set himself defensively for Howard near the foul line? There's no time for that here because Alston and Howard immediately get into the action while Ilgauskas is still backpedaling. When James gets hung up on Howard's screen up top, Ilgauskas realizes he has to pick up Alston on the left side. Just as Z shifts his weight and attention toward Alston, Howard takes off for the rim. Alston threads the needle with a killer pocket pass across his body between the two defenders. Howard snatches it and, on the finish, almost destroys additional oper
ations equipment.

Possession #7: Sin of commission
Even the Magic's single turnover of the stretch is somewhat excusable. Alston pushes the ball upcourt off the Cleveland miss as the Magic shooters run to their spots. Alston weaves his way through the backpedaling Cleveland defense. As the Cavs' defenders begin to collapse on him, Alston delivers a hard bounce pass to the left sideline which catches Turkoglu just a little off-balance and lands in the front row. A few inches to the left or a nanosecond earlier in the same spot, and Turkoglu has an open look at a three-pointer.

Possession #8: Space for Alston

The Magic goes to another pick-and-roll with Alston and Howard, this time on the right side. Howard lays it on thick against LeBron, giving Alston all kinds of space for a shot. Where's Ilgauskas on the show? Given Howard's activity, Ilgauskas has clearly decided to stay back, willing to yield a jump shot to Alston if it means eliminating (or at least complicating) the possibility of Howard's flying nonstop from the wing to the rim. The gamble doesn't pay off, as Alston drains the long jumper. The only consolation for Cleveland is the low-percentage shot: the dreaded 22-footer.

Possession #9: Reversal
For sheer choreography, this is the prettiest set of the night for Orlando, as all five Magicians touch the ball. They go to their four-out-one-in formation, with Howard getting the entry pass from Altson at the mid-right post. Cleveland immediately sends Ben Wallace on the double-team. When Wallace commits, the four shooters space themselves out exquisitely around the arc against the three remaining Cavs' defenders. Howard kicks the ball out to the one closest to him -- Rafer Alston, who's situated as the last shooter on the right. 

From there, it's artistry, as Orlando stretches the Cleveland defense to the breaking point. Alston has the ball in his possession for maybe half a second before kicking it to Turkoglu, twelve feet to his left. Hot potato, as Turkoglu immediately sends it left to Lee, simliarly spaced. The last stop on the Orlando Perimeter Express is Rashard Lewis, who catches, shoots, and nails the three-point shot.

Master of Panic or Master Mechanic?

Possession #10: Locate the mismatch
The Orlando run finishes how it stars, with the Magic using their forwards' versatility to leverage a mismatch. Courtney Lee (guarded by Mo Williams) and Lewis (guarded by Ben Wallace) run a two-man game on the left side of the floor. Orlando gets the mismatch, and Lee is now facing down Ben Wallace. Lee gets to about 18 feet and has a jumper if he wants it, but he wisely looks around for better options, aware that if he has Wallace on him, that means Lewis has Williams. 

As it turns out, Wiliams was taken out of the play, but Delonte West has picked up Lewis on the rotation. That's the good news for Cleveland. The bad news is that this still represents a mismatch, and Lewis is hungry. Lewis backs West in with left shoulder, spins baseline, then effortlessly launches that slingshot over West that falls through. 

Orlando leads 16-6 midway through the first quarter.

After this efficient start, Orlando spends the next twelve minutes striving for the spectacular, when the operative was working perfectly well. In the third quarter, the Magic reestablishes all that was working in the first six minutes, and they regain control of the game. They also use their quickness and Howard's size to rack up 51 free throw attempts en route to a big Game 3 win. This is to say nothing of their defense, which shuts down almost every mortal facet of the Cavs' offense. If Orlando has a glaring weakness on either side of the ball outside of Dwight Howard's free throw shooting and not having LeBron James under contract, it hasn't been exposed. 

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

In an interview with Jason Friedman published yesterday at, Daryl Morey says unequivocally of LeBron James:

Yes, he's the best player in the league – by a good margin, I think. If you had first pick in the all-free agent NBA draft, you'd take LeBron James. I get that question a lot, too, so I figured I'd answer that as well.

He's unbelievable. We have two of the best perimeter defenders in the league and it is going to be extremely difficult for both. They're going to give it their all but, more than anyone, he's a tough guard. There's a reason the [Michael Lewis] article is about Kobe, not LeBron (laughs).

Morey's lighthearted response almost suggests that there isn't enough good data in the world that can construct a coherent strategy for guarding LeBron James.  Kobe Bryant?  Irrepressible some nights, sure, but still a guy you can prepare for with certain pieces of information that can be assembled into a defensive strategy. If you execute that plan perfectly, you have a chance. 

But what about LeBron James?  

I put the question to John Krolik of Cavs the Blog on Thursday afternoon.  Knowing that the Rockets -- and most specifically Shane Battier -- devise their defensive strategy based on what they've found in the scorer's offensive tendencies, what should we expect to see from Battier and, to the extent that he uses this information, Ron Artest? John responded: 

...control where LeBron's getting his catches.  What you want him doing is going ISO or Pick-and-Roll 30 feet from the hoop so you can double him up high and have room to rotate back without giving up an easy basket. He's going to hurt you when he does that, but it's not nearly as bad as when he's catching it at the elbow and you're freeing up a good scorer to go double or if you let him catch it on the move, which is when you're just screwed. Cleveland fans are all familiar with something called "LeISO" -- you want as much of that happening as possible.

On the perimeter, try to make him shoot jumpers. It's different with LeBron than it is with Kobe -- LeBron doesn't have set moves or spots he's going to hurt you from on the perimeter. This makes sense in a way because when you shoot 72% at the basket and take 40% of your shots there, it doesn't make sense to be planning out a perimeter game. And don't try to stop penetration, but try to channel his penetration towards where the help is, because his hot zones show how stymied he gets when he meets the second defender. What you want is LeBron out of sync -- he's intensely improvisational and prone to streaks, and when he hits a wall he doesn't have that solid 15-footer or easy move to go back to, and he can end up ineffective that way.

There are data to compliment this scouting report.  LeBron's struggles from long-range are no secret: James is a .313 shooter from beyond the arc, and he's not all that potent on two-point jumpers either -- just .379.  Where he's lethal is from inside, where he shoots .715.  On the drive, well, pick your poison.  He's measurably better driving to his right, but still devastating going to the rack any which way. 

So how do the Rockets hold LeBron James Thursday night to a mortal 21 points on 7-21 shooting from the field and only six free throw attempts?  Is it Shane Battier's savvy preparation and scouting?  Ron Artest's defensive aggressiveness?  

Let's take a look.

Ron Artest
Rick Adelman chooses Artest to be LeBron James' primary defender.  Artest's defensive strategy on LeBron is apparent from the outset of the game -- run under any and all perimeter screens, yielding LeBron anything he wants from the outside. 

At the 11:25 mark of the first quarter, James gets the ball in the backcourt, 35 feet from the rim.  Artest gives him 10 feet of space.  Ben Wallace steps out for a pass from LeBron, who then rubs Artest off Wallace to get some space.  Rather than struggle over the screen, Artest is more than happy to run under Wallace and give LeBron the jumper from 23 feet.  The shot falls through, but somewhere in the building Sam Hinkie is very pleased -- the outcome wasn't great, but the probabilities are in the Rockets' favor.  This is the only shot James hits in five first quarter attempts. 

Artest uniformly abides by this strategy all night.  When the Cavs run the same set (with Wallace and Zydrunas Ilgauskas as the respective screeners) on the right side at the 9:24 and 5:55 marks of the first, again Artest runs underneath, leaving LeBron with a pair of 23-footers, both of which he misses.  Even when the screener is Daniel Gibson (2nd quarter, 5:59 mark), whom Artest can plow through at will, James is generously ceded the shot.   

(Read full post)

The Shootaround

January, 30, 2009

Is the Spurs-Suns rivalry still relevant? How about Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Marc Iavaroni?  The TrueHoop Network has all the relevant information: 

LeBron James

John Krolik of Cavs the Blog: "On the road against a tough Magic team and still without Z, the Cavaliers were able to establish a rhythm early, but at about the midway point of the second quarter lost their momentum and never really grabbed hold of the reins after that. After they put up monstrous lines against the Kings, the league's 3rd best defense was able to hold LBJ and Mo to a combined 14-42 from the field...

Without Z, we just don't seem to have enough to beat elite teams on the road. It's not the worst admission in the world, but you would hope that we could at least hang a little tougher with these games and not lay eggs on national television.

We'll start with LeBron. I actually don't think he did anything all that wrong, despite the fact that he had one of his worst games of the year. A 23/8/8 line is nice, but taking 30 attempts with a true shooting % of 38 is tough for a team to bounce back from and not all that good.

LeBron took it to the hole, but again seemed to shy away from making really aggressive moves, possibly because the Magic were able to cut away the corners and possibly because LeBron was completely unable to get to the foul line despite driving and getting contact, only shooting 6 free throws the entire game."

Tim DuncanGraydon Gordian of 48 Minutes of Hell: "I'll be honest: There is nothing I love more than beating the Suns. Some commenters have suggested that in order for a team to be a true rival they must have beaten us in the playoffs in recent history but in my opinion that is not the definition of a rival. Do they make your blood boil? Do they make you rise out of your seat? Does every single match-up (even regular season games) have an added element of intrigue? Well, that's a rival. So, yes, we have bested the Suns time after time over the last 6 or so years. But this is about more than final scores. Opponents who inspire the depth of emotion I feel deserve the term 'rival.' And, as so many Suns-Spurs games have, this contest did not disappoint."

David WestRyan Schwan of Hornets247: "...It was announced that David West will be heading to Phoenix to take part in the All-star game again this season, and much like last year, there's a bit of storm raging around the internet about his selection.  I have to admit that at first I was a bit torn by this selection.  I am, first and foremost, a Hornets fan, and I'm pleased he's being recognized for his production despite being one of the quietest and least self-promoting players in the league.  Still, the fact remains I'm also a stat-geek, and by any measure there were better producers in the West that got left off the team.  There are three players in particular I have a hard time dismissing out of hand as worse than Fluffy: Manu Ginobili, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap.  I could be persuaded to put Nene on that list as well."

The Painted Area: Marc Iavaroni, we told you so.
Valley of the Suns: Hack-a-Bowen?!
Hardwood Paroxysm: The Spurs-Suns rivalry is kaput. 

(Photos by Fernando Medina, Barry Gossage, Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)