The matchup for tonight will feature foreign starting centers Tiago Splitter and Marcin Gortat.
The San Antonio Spurs have seen a vast improvement in Tiago Splitter this season. He's more active on offense and moving without the ball than in past years. His movement on offense is what's taken the burden off of Tim Duncan and his aging knees while complimenting him on defense. The Splitter/Duncan frontcourt has some Spurs fans remembering the slow down, defensive minded Spurs from years ago that won championship titles and contended every year. The Suns have had the opposite luck than the Spurs, being the worst team in the Western Conference this season. These aren't the title contending "run and gunning" Phoenix Suns when Steve Nash was leading them, but they are looking to upset the Spurs tonight and play spoiler to the best team in the league. The Spurs will be without Tony Parker tonight so look for Splitter to open up his game from his usual routine if the Spurs want to grab a win.
What Splitter must do on offense:
The lowly Suns are ranked 22th (100.3ppg) in points allowed this season and that should still leave Splitter with more than enough room to work without Parker in the game. Splitter must take advantage of the Suns' lack of discipline on defense and cut to the basket every chance he gets. With any miscommunication from Phoenix on defense, that will open up a shot for his perimeter shooters or for himself in the restricated area. Without Parker, it'll be harder for Tiago to pick and roll with the starting unit unless Nando De Colo starts for San Antonio. His game is similar to Manu Ginobili's on the offensive end, but Splitter should have his way with Phoenix's big men anyway as they're not defensive minded.
What Splitter must do on defense:
While the Suns don't score as much as they used to, they're still looking to pick and roll as much as they can with Goran Dragic and Marcin Gortat. They are ranked 21st (94.7ppg) in poinst forced, so the Spurs know this attack doesn't come as easy as a Steve Nash-Amar'e Stoudemire combination used to. With Splitter's help, the Spurs have to make Dragic a long range shooter and Gortat shoot the ball from as far from the restricted area as possible. Gortat is shooting 65% (167-257) from the restricted area this season but everywhere else is a major drop for the Suns' big man. He's only shooting 36% (39-107) from the painted area that's not the restricted part and 44% (66-150) from mid range. Tiago and the Spurs may prefer Gortat out on the mid range area than anywhere else close to the paint as a spot up jump shooter than having him help around on offense. If Splitter can help on Dragic and eliminate any offensive rebounds by Gortat by boxing him out, this should be an easy win for the Spurs without Tony Parker.