PHOENIX (AP)—The last time the Phoenix Suns met the San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs, Amare Stoudemire was a muscular mass of raw talent relying on his natural ability against the wily ways of Tim Duncan.
Stoudemire averaged 37 points in those 2005 Western Conference finals, but the Spurs won in five games.
Stoudemire goes against Duncan again on Sunday, when the best-of-seven conference semifinals open in Phoenix. Two knee surgeries might have diminished the Phoenix big man’s athleticism, but he has emerged a better overall basketball player.
“I think Amare’s getting better all the time,” Steve Nash said after the Suns practiced Saturday. “He’s more experienced obviously. He’s able to read and react and adjust to situations much better. I think he’ll be more equipped this time, and we’re looking for him to have another big series.”
Stoudemire says he’s looking forward to going against Duncan again.
“It’s a clash of two of the best power forwards and centers in the league meeting in the playoffs,” he said. “It’s definitely a huge matchup. It’s going to be a battle. It’s going to be a showdown. I’m ready and my team is ready.”
Stoudemire averaged 18 points and 13 rebounds, both team highs, in the three games against San Antonio this season. The Spurs won two of them, both at home. In one of game, Raja Bell missed a free throw that would have given Phoenix the victory, then the Suns lost in overtime.
Duncan, meanwhile, averaged 23 points and 13 rebounds, and Stoudemire has no illusions about shutting down the two-time league MVP.
“He’s a Hall of Famer, so he’s going to get numbers,” Stoudemire said. “The other players are the ones we have to contain and control.”
That would especially apply to Tony Parker, who has long given the Suns’ fits, averaging 28 points in the three matchups this season. Parker loves to play against Phoenix, and says his team can play an up-tempo style, as long as its on the Spurs’ terms.
“I think you just have to be smart when you run,” Parker said, “because we have Timmy, and Timmy is going to do a lot of damage inside. I think we can run with them a little bit. We just have to do it smart.”
“Like, stopping and going,” Marion said. “LB is real fast just nonstop going, but as far as stopping and going quick, whoa, he (Parker) is fast.”
Parker has done much of his damage against Phoenix on drives to the basket.
“We’ll put length on him, we’ll change people up on him,” Phoenix coach Mike D’Antoni said. “You’ve got to give him the outside shot, but he hits that now. It used to be a little bit easier, but now he’s marking outside shots, so it’s a tough, tough matchup.”
D’Antoni, who has repeatedly praised the talent and play of San Antonio, scoffed when he was asked if he’s glad to be playing the Spurs because it is an opportunity to show Phoenix can beat the best.
“Yeah, because a masochist? Because I’m an idiot? No, I wish they would have got beat, too,” D’Antoni said. “I wish everybody would get beat and let us walk through the finals, but that’s not going to happen.”
But skeptics often have said the Suns’ freewheeling style can’t succeed when the going gets rough in the postseason. Nash said he welcomes a chance to prove them wrong.
“I don’t think anyone has ever lucked their was through the draw to a championship,” he said. “You’ve got to earn it. What a great opportunity to go out there and get a chance to earn it against another championship team. I think that’s what it’s all about. You hope for all the breaks in the world, but the bottom line is the team that wins it earns it.”