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Strategy session (cont.)

Posted: Thursday May 18, 2006 12:55PM; Updated: Thursday May 18, 2006 10:33PM
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Versatile enough to play five positions, Boris Diaw's play-making skills have been key in guiding the Suns deep into the playoffs.
Versatile enough to play five positions, Boris Diaw's play-making skills have been key in guiding the Suns deep into the playoffs.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
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So the stage is set for an interesting Game 6 at the Staples Center on Thursday. That is where the Suns made their stand against the Lakers in the first round and where the Clips will be trying desperately to keep their dream season alive and send the series back to Phoenix for a Game 7 on Monday.

Herewith, a five-pack of keys for the game:

1. The Clippers have to stay harmonious. After Tuesday's disheartening loss, reliable reports said the Clips engaged in loud and angry finger-pointing in their locker room. (Finger-pointing can't literally be loud, but you know what I mean.) With a floor leader like Cassell, who screams at teammates even during the best of times, the Clips are never going to be the paradigm for cohesion. But neither can they survive an implosion in such a pressure-filled game.

2. The Suns have to get more play-making from center Boris Diaw. The Frenchman is a center in nomenclature only, having the skills of a point guard, and all season long he's given Nash relief with his savvy passing. But his effectiveness in this series has been limited by L.A.'s physical play.

3. The Clippers have to shrink Corey Maggette's minutes. He has played hard but ineffectively, forcing shots and failing to keep the ball on offense. With Brand, Cassell, Cuttino Mobley and Vladimir Radmanovic, the Clips have enough offensive options without looking to Maggette.

4. The Suns have to continue to mix the defensive looks on Cassell. Coach Mike D'Antoni made a good move in Game 3 by putting the 6-foot-7 jumping-jack Marion on Cassell, and, in Game 4, also used Bell, whose forte is staying clamped on his man, as he did on Kobe Bryant in the seven-game first-round series. The Suns don't have to shut down Cassell, who had 32 points on Tuesday, but they have to keep him from getting into a comfortable rhythm and from taking over the game down the stretch.

5. The boards, the boards, the boards. Key for both teams. The Suns probably can't hope to out-rebound the Clips, but they have to keep it close. Giving up second-chance point after second-chance point, as they did in Game 2, is deeply discouraging, not to mention a remedy for losing. But with Marion, Diaw and particularly Tim Thomas, the Suns don't have to be utterly dominant on the glass. In the second half of Tuesday's game, for example, Phoenix actually outrebounded the Clips 33-27, a major reason they took a 3-2 series lead in one of the greatest games in recent NBA history.

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