Suns must set tempo to combat Clippers' inside threat

PHOENIX -- The Phoenix Suns face a whole new set of problems
against that "other" team from Los Angeles.

Just 48 hours after dispatching the Lakers in a Game 7
first-round blowout, the Suns play the Clippers on Monday night in the
opener of their best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series.

"They're a totally different team than the Lakers," newly
crowned MVP Steve Nash said. "We'll face a whole new set of
challenges and problems with them. But we've got to have the same
mental attitude and toughness that we developed in the Lakers

The Clippers have not played in a week after eliminating the
Denver Nuggets in five games.

"It's been good from a standpoint that we had some guys
injured," Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. "It was probably a
little longer than we would have liked."

The Suns got a chance to rest their starters late in Saturday
night's 121-90 rout of the Lakers, a triumph that made Phoenix the
eighth team to rally from a 3-1 deficit to advance.

The teams split their regular-season series 2-2, and the small
Phoenix front line has had problems with the inside threat of Elton Brand and Chris Kaman.

"I think the key to the series is going to be tempo," Brand
said, echoing his coach and teammates. "They're a dangerous team.
Nash is the main key [but] they have a whole set of keys on that
ring. They're very quick, they're very athletic, they move around
very well, offensively and defensively."

The Suns will send 6-foot-8 Boris Diaw against the 7-foot Kaman,
with 6-7 Shawn Marion -- as usual -- playing someone larger in the
6-8, 254-pound Brand.

"They're going to post up Elton as much as they can and Kaman
when they can, and the other guys will play off them," Nash said.
"That's their advantage against every team, let alone a smaller
team like us."

But the matchups can work in Phoenix's advantage at the other
end of the floor, especially if the Suns play the game at the
frenzied pace they like.

"If we can do what we do, we have a heck of a chance," said
Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni, who served as an assistant to Dunleavy
for one season in Portland. "If they can pound us, then that will
be different. It's not a real secret here. If we move the ball and
make shots, we'll be fine."

The Clippers have made opponents forget that this had always
been a laughingstock of a franchise.

"I think Dunleavy and the whole crew over there did an
unbelievable job," D'Antoni said. "They got rid of a lot of
ghosts. I didn't doubt them. Mike's an unbelievable coach. They put
together a great team and good players. They're going to be around
a long time, so you might as well get used to them."

The Suns' players point to the arrival of veteran point guard
Sam Cassell as the key new ingredient.

"I knew once they got Sam they were going to have a good chance
with the guys they already have," Tim Thomas said. "Sam is a
proven winner."

Nash recalled his rookie season as a teammate of Cassell with
the Suns.

"I love Sam's game,"' Nash said. "He was the vet that brought
me into the league in Phoenix when I was a rookie. We go way back.
He taught me a lot. ... He obviously gives them experience. He's a
champion, he's a winner and he's a terrific scoring point guard. He
poses a lot of problems for us and gives them a lot of confidence
and experience."

For the Suns, the plan is simple. Force turnovers, get out on
the break and let Nash work his magic.

"I think they're in a good rhythm," Dunleavy said. "They're
playing every other day. In the last three games, they scored 120
points [per game]. We have to figure out a way to throw some water
on the fire. We have to figure out a way to cool them down."