Brand Decodes Suns' Schemes

Times Staff Writers

PHOENIX — Containing power forward Elton Brand is the No. 1 priority of Phoenix Suns Coach Mike D'Antoni.

D'Antoni has designed aggressive double- and triple-team schemes for Brand, and added new wrinkles each game.

The result?

Brand is averaging 29.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.8 blocked shots.

After scoring 20 points in Friday's loss in Game 3, he had 30 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in helping the Clippers win Game 4, 114-107.

Brand also made a clutch 12-foot jump shot with less than a minute left to help the Clippers hold off the Suns.

"That's just the 'Horse,' and that's what he's done all year," said point guard Sam Cassell. "I told my guys in training camp, when I first got here, that Elton is our horse. Wherever we're going to go, Horse is going to take us there."

Brand averaged 2.6 assists this season, but the Suns' focus on him has left other Clippers open, and teammates have benefited from his passing.

"I'm very confident when I get the ball, and I'm also confident in my teammates," Brand said. "I know if they bring the double- and the triple-team, I can kick it out.

"I have confidence that those guys are going to hit the shots on the perimeter. You just have to have confidence in your teammates, and stick to the game plan."

Raja Bell, scorer?

The Suns' defensive stopper can occasionally put up points, but his career-high 33 in Game 4 was a surprise.

"We hate to waste that," Coach Mike D'Antoni said after the Suns' 114-107 loss.

Although Bell was the team's third-leading scorer during the season, he was more of a steady hand, passing the 25-point mark only three times on the way to a 14.7-point average. In the first round against the Lakers, he averaged only 10.3 points because his main assignment was sticking to Kobe Bryant.

Now he's averaging 22.3 points against the Clippers.

"The Lakers made a commitment to hug up on us and the opportunities weren't there for me," he said. "I wasn't forcing in that series. There just have been more opportunities for me this series. Maybe it's the pace."

Said Clippers Coach Mike Dunleavy, "He can keep hurting us," he said, "as long as we keep winning."

Even if center Chris Kaman doesn't play tonight, the Suns are expecting enough trouble in the post with power forward Elton Brand.

Brand has averaged 25 points, nine rebounds and an impressive 8.5 assists in the last two games of the Western Conference semifinal series.

"They have a lot of talent," Suns guard Steve Nash said. "If Chris goes out, they lose a 7-footer, they've still got a size advantage with Elton."

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