SAN ANTONIO - The playoff series that starts today in the Alamo city will have a distinctly different flavor than the five previous ones featuring these two clubs.
The Spurs now play in a standard, state-of-the-art arena. And that means a much different atmosphere than the cavernous Alamodome, where visitors inevitably would have a tough time finding their shooting eye, and the ancient Hemisfair Arena, where beer-drinking baseline fans would get to know visiting players up close and personal (enough to question the players' skills, motivation and even ancestry).
No, the flavor will be more bland. And, as the Suns see it, that's probably just as well.
Current players and coaches remember the Alamodome, where "You're thinking about your shooting, and then you have 34,000 people screaming and getting into the game," said Suns coach Frank Johnson.
"The Alamodome was too big," said Penny Hardaway.
"The background was so far away from the rim . . . I don't know if too many (visitors) shot well."
Overall though, Hardaway suspects the Alamodome may have been a disadvantage for the home team because so many fans were far from the action.
As a visiting player, "You don't want to have a fan screaming in your ear the whole game."
The Suns are no match for the Spurs in terms of playoff experience.
Five players have never played in the postseason. The combined number of playoff games of their entire roster totals 232, third-fewest among playoff teams. The Spurs have the fourth-most playoff games among postseason teams (552), led by Steve Kerr (118) and David Robinson (100).
The Suns' most experienced players in the post-season are Scott Williams (85 games) and Penny Hardaway (54).
Hardaway still has a vivid memory of his first playoff game, in the spring of '94.
In Round 1, his Orlando team was playing Indiana. The Magic might have won . . . if the game had been a second or two shorter.
"Byron Scott hit a last-second shot to beat us," he said.
All time, the Suns have played 201 playoff games (they are 95-106).
They are 19-23 in playoff series.
On the road, they are 34-67. At home they are 61-39. Their most frequent opponent has been the Los Angeles Lakers (they are 2-7 in series, 14-30 in games).
Against the Spurs, Suns teams have gone 3-2 in series, 12-9 in games.
The individual leader in many categories is Kevin Johnson. He's No. 1 in games (105), points (2,026), steals (132) and assists (935).
The highest scoring average belongs to Charles Barkley (26.5).
ROOKIE OF YEAR? AMARE LOOKING GOOD
A month ago, Amare Stoudemire had the conventional view of his chances to win the coveted rookie-of-the-year award.
"Everybody wants Yao to win it," he said at the time.
Now, he's not so sure.
"I think my chances are fair," he said Friday. "Everybody was saying it would be determined by (who made) the playoffs."
Indeed, a Tribune survey of voters for the award shows Stoudemire leading by a surprisingly wide margin; a number of voters cited Stoudemire's role in the Suns' surge to the playoffs.