Coach's Corner: Terry Porter on Suns vs. Mavericks
By Terry Porter (As told to Andrew Pearson)

The Suns visit the Mavericks Sunday 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC.


Porter
Despite its great season last year, Phoenix has been a major surprise. I don't think anybody anticipated that they would have this type of year with all the changes they've had and obviously with Amare Stoudemire being out. Steve Nash has been unbelievable again – definitely an MVP candidate. Dallas has been very similar in that there were very few, if any, who expected them to play at the level that they have in challenging for the best record in the Western Conference. Everyone realized they had a great roster, but they weren't so sure how the players were going to adjust to Avery Johnson on defense. He has them at least thinking about the other end of the floor away from the offensive side of things. The big test for these two teams will depend on how they finish up because they may face each other in the second round of the playoffs.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Nash is playing like an MVP ... again.
Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images
There is a good chance that Tim Thomas could be a member of the Suns by the time these two teams meet according to many news sources. I had Tim Thomas when I was in Milwaukee. He has some good skills that fits them – a tall, big body with the ability to put the ball on the floor. The Suns can use him to guard a center or forward if they choose to play a small lineup which they like to do. He also is capable of knocking down threes. In a situation like the Suns where Nash does most of the dribbling and controlling of the offense, he'll be good. He just has to stand out there and wait for Nash to get him the ball. The big issue is can he rebound? When they play a smaller lineup, they need guys to work the boards.

Should Phoenix bring him in, it is going to be really tough for him considering he has been inactive for a good portion of the season. I don't know what kind of shape he's in. The last team you want to go to after being inactive is Phoenix with the way they run and that high octane, up tempo style where it is push, push, push. He has not done any type of conditioning to maintain that. It is tough for someone to sit out, especially when he hasn't been with Chicago running a lot of practices and doing a lot of pregame or postgame workouts. I don't know what he has been doing on his own, but there is nothing that can compare as far as your individual workouts to a game situation. That is something that he is going to slowly try to get into. You worry about the conditioning but then you worry about the X and O's part, getting used to D'Antoni's system, and getting used to the other players. If he does play, whose minutes is he going to take away? There are a lot of things that go into the equation on how he is going to fit in. If they believe he is someone they can use in the playoffs, they have to start getting him involved in the rotation as get him acclimated as quickly as possible to help them and see what he can do.

X-FACTORS

Whenever you look at big games like this you always think that star players will cancel each other out. Then you look at the role players. Without a doubt, Dallas has the best bench in the league. They have so much versatility on that bench and can go so many ways. Who is going to give them a lift? That is so critical. Keith Van Horn has got to play well. You always look at Jerry Stackhouse to provide a spark. Will Devin Harris be back in time for this game? He is crucial because so many times when they play somebody like Nash, they allow Harris to pick him up early. Is Darrell Armstrong going to be the guy backing up Jason Terry? Is he going to be able to maintain that full court pressure? There are some things in the equation that you have to look and see how guys are going to do. Who is going to be backup point? With Steve running the show so much, it is going to be critical on the point guard, that he maintain pressure on him at all times to try and wear him down throughout the game.

The guy you have to make sure to watch is Shawn Marion. What a stretch he has been on. His last four games have been remarkable, averaging 33.5 point and 18.7 rebounds. How is Dallas going to match-up? Are they going to put Howard on him? Dirk? Marion is too active for Dirk. It will be interesting to see what type of match-ups both coaches decide to go with. Looking at Phoenix's other role players, you have to look at Raja Bell and James Jones. You have to see how the role players are going to separate themselves. When it comes down to big games like this, it is always the role players. How the role players on the starting unit and the bench players respond is a key. Which team is going to get that energy, that sparkplug performance?

BOTTOM LINE

Dallas plays so well at home, where they're very comfortable having gone 26-4 so far this season. The Mavericks have to take care of the ball and not allow Phoenix to get a lot of easy baskets. Phoenix plays one way – pick and roll, up tempo, high octane. You know what you are going to get from the Suns. Nash is going to manage the game. The big keys are controlling Nash and controlling Marion, who has just been on fire these last four games. When it comes down to it, though, I see the Mavericks making the shots and the plays down the stretch. It is going to be a very close, entertaining game.

-- Terry Porter appears courtesy of the National Basketball Coaches Association.