By Marty Burns
May 11, 2005

Steve Nash plays like he has something to prove. Fresh off of his MVP award, the brilliant Suns point guard should be focused like never before. Facing his former Mavs team will give him even more motivation. That's bad news for Dallas, which figured to have a hard time stopping Phoenix anyway. Amare Stoudemire (32.7 points, 11.0 rebounds) was unstoppable vs. the Mavs this season, while Shawn Marion, Joe Johnson and Quentin Richardson also did their usual damage. Meanwhile, Jim Jackson is the perfect answer to Mavs' sixth man Jerry Stackhouse. Dallas used its quickness to eliminate the Rockets, but it won't have that edge against the Suns. The Mavs are going to have to slow it down and try to pound it inside. But Phoenix has an excellent defender in Marion to frustrate Dallas star Dirk Nowitzki, and Steven Hunter can be called in to slow Erick Dampier if the Mavs center gets it going inside. The Suns showed no signs of slowing down in their first-round sweep of the Grizzlies. They also have had a chance to rest and get Marion's sore wrist some time to heal. Throw in the Nash factor, and the Suns should roll.

They can pound the ball inside and crash the offensive boards. The Mavs have the scorers to stay close to the Suns. Led by Nowitzki, Stackhouse, Michael Finley, Josh Howard and Jason Terry, the Mavs averaged 102.5 points per game during the season, third in the NBA (Phoenix averaged 110.4). If Dallas can find a way to shave 6-10 points or so off the Suns' scoring average, it should have a chance. The key will be to get the ball inside to Dampier and Nowitzki in the post and hope they can use their size for easy baskets. The more Dallas can score, the less Phoenix can get out in transition. The Mavs also must take advantage of the Suns' weakness on the defensive glass. Phoenix ranked last in the NBA in offensive rebounds allowed, so Dallas might be able to rack up second chance opportunities. The problem is that this makes transition defense even tougher, which could be fatal against the Suns. The Mavs have some experienced veterans to pull off this upset, but will they have enough gas left in the tank after that grueling series with the Rockets?

Terry vs. Nash

Nash is the key to the Suns. He pushes the ball constantly, rarely stops his dribble and almost always finds the right man for the best shot. If you play off him to deny his penetration, he'll knock down the open shot. If you foul him, he hits his free throws. But Nash is vulnerable defensively, and Terry is an explosive scorer. He is one of the NBA's best outside shooters, a marksman from 3-point range. He enters the series red hot after helping slay the Rockets in the first round. Terry must continue to knock down open shots so that Nash can't help out on defense. At the other end he must stay in front of Nash and slow him down as much as possible. But Terry is not a true point guard, so the Suns really only have to worry about his outside shooting.

The Suns and Mavs are two of three NBA teams (along with the Sonics) that had identical home/away records. Phoenix finished an NBA-best 31-10 at home and 31-10 on the road. Dallas was 29-12 at home and 29-12 on the road.

The Mavs are an improved defensive team under coach Avery Johnson, but they aren't good enough to shut down the Suns. Nash gets the last laugh on Mavs owner Mark Cuban. Suns in 5.

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