Wilson Chandler will be tweeting observations throughout the Celtics-Cavaliers series for NBA.com. But what I really want to read are Mike D'Antoni's thoughts when the Suns and Spurs meet in the playoffs for the fourth time in six years.

It'll be the first time since 2003 that the teams will go head-to-head without D'Antoni on the Suns sideline. And yet you know in many ways he'll be front-and-center in a certain way as this series tips off Monday in Phoenix.

Here's where you hook up D'Antoni to a Polygraph, resist the temptation to ask him if he regrets taking the Knicks job (and what was really behind the confounding devotion to Chris Duhon at the point?) and get his real take on how he wants this series to go.

Because if the Suns finally overcome the Spurs, it'll mean a lot to people close to D'Antoni, especially Steve Nash and Alvin Gentry and, most of all, his Seven Seconds or Less system.

However, it would also suggest the Suns finally overcame the Spurs because Gentry, while maintaining the high octane offense, has put equal emphasis on defense.

Yeah, there goes that D word again.

It came up after the first time D'Antoni's Suns lost to the Spurs, in the 2005 Western Conference Finals (four games to one). Amar'e Stoudemire had a monster series against Tim Duncan, yet Joe Johnson, who played with a mask on his face (broken orbital bone) and Nash both ran out of gas in that series.

But the biggest concern for the Suns was their inability to get stops, which D'Antoni addressed after the series.

"Obvious answer: we have to get better defensively," he said after the Game 5 loss.

Sound familiar?

The Suns got back to the Conference Final the following year, but avoided the Spurs only to lose to the Mavericks. Then in 2007, with a tougher, battle-tested team that dumped the Lakers, 4-1, in the first round, they went toe-it-toe with the Spurs in the conference semifinals. And that was an epic series, which saw Nash bloodied from a collisoin with Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili bloodied from a collision with Shawn Marion and then the memorable donnybrook started when Robert Horry hip checked Nash into the scorer's table in Game 4.

With the series tied at 2, the Suns lost Stoudemire and Boris Diaw for one-game suspensions because they left the bench area in the altercation. But they held an early 16-point lead in Game 5, ready to take command of the series, before it slipped away in a frustrating 88-85 loss. The Spurs took Game 6 and went on for their fourth title.

D'Antoni's tenure with the Suns fittingly ended in 2008 with a five-game elimination at the hands of the Spurs. The Suns tried to steal Game 1, but twice the Spurs hit threes to force overtime and it was Duncan's trey that force the second OT, which is where the Suns finally surrendered.

Phoenix acquired Shaquille O'Neal at the trade deadline that year to provide what they -- make that, Robert Sarver and Steve Kerr -- thought was the kind of beef needed to contend with the Spurs and Lakers size in the paint. But Hack-A-Shaq resulted in 9-for-20 from the line in the series.

(Makes you wonder what a Cavs-Magic Eastern Conference Final will look like with both teams hacking the opposing team's poor FT shooting centers. That is, as long as Dwight Howard doesn't get fouled out by those haters with whistles).

This year's Suns, of course, are trying to suggest they are a different team than D'Antoni's groups that couldn't overcome Duncan and Co. before. And yet from the other side of their mouths, they talk about how happy they are to be playing the style they know and love -- the D'Antoni Seven Seconds or Less System -- under Gentry after enduring half a season of a conventional program implemented by Terry Porter.

"It would mean a lot to beat the Spurs, but you can't get caught up in the emotion of it and the history," Grant Hill told reporters after the Suns eliminated the injury-ravaged Frail Blazers in six games. "You have to disassociate all that stuff and remove all that emotion from the equation and just get down and play basketball."

If the Suns actually believe that, they'll be done in five games or less. The playoffs are all about emotion and without it the Suns won't be able to beat the Spurs, who proved against the Maddening Mavs that they still have plenty left in the tank among their Big Three (Duncan, Ginobili and Parker) and have a seriously tough check for the Suns in Oohie Poohie's George Hill.

If Robin Lopez can get back on the court to battle Duncan, it would certainly be a bonus for the Suns, who could pit Stoudemire against Antonio McDyess.

Still, in the end, as it has many times before between these two teams, it'll come down to two major issues that have plagued the Suns before: clutch shooting and, of course, defense.

The very thing that made Mike go from D'Antonio to D'oh.

* * *

Meanwhile, it's a little curious how Dirk Nowitzki worded things about his potential free agency status this summer after the Mavs were eliminated in the first round for the third time in four years since their Finals appearance in 2006.

"I haven't really thought anything about my future yet," he told reporters. "I guess I've got some time now to think about some stuff, think about my options."

Entschuldigen Sie?

"Everything's too fresh right now," he added. "I've got some time to think about some stuff."

Stuff? Of all the top shelf free agents on the 2010 list, Nowitzki seemed the biggest given to stay with his team. But after a decade of 50 win seasons that have produced just one Finals appearance, zero titles and a lot of frustrating endings, is Dirk allowing himself to wonder if he should find new opportunity elsewhere?

It is hard to believe, but this certainly isn't much of a power play like what Dwyane Wade is pulling in Miami. Nowitzki would be leaving $21M on the table if he opts out.

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