Saturday, April 21, 2007

Spurs, Heat to meet in NBA Finals

Amidst all the Nowitski or Nash for MVP hype as the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks both rolled through the NBA with over 60 wins each, the San Antonio Spurs quietly completed their eighth consecutive winning season. In fact, since Tim Duncan was drafted No.1 by San Antonio ten years ago, the Spurs have the best winning percentage of all four major sports. The Spurs three world championships came in spurts during that span, largely in part to the short lived Laker dynasty and numerous injuries to the big three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili, who are usually banged up by the time the playoffs roll around. However, for the first time in five years, Tim Duncan has not missed a game the entire season. The remaining core of the team, Parker, Ginobili, Michael Finley, and Bruce Bowen all have been healthy all season long, each keeping their games missed to a single digit number.

The first round matchup against the Denver Nuggets promises to be entertaining, with two amazingly quick guards in Tony Parker and Allen Iverson going up against each other. While Denver’s improving frontline of Carmelo Anthony, Nene, and Marcus Camby may be able to slow down Duncan, look for Ginobili to have a huge series against a poor perimeter defensive team. Throw in veterans Robert Horry, Michael Finley, and Brent Barry, all of whom will step up their games come playoff time, and San Antonio will advance to the second round.

The Spurs have continuously shown that they are the only team in the NBA who can slow down the Phoenix Suns. Whether it be the ability of Tony Parker to keep pace with the quickness Steven Nash and Leandro Barbosa, Ginobili coming off the bench for an energy boost, or Tim Duncan’s post presence, the Spurs have consistently had the Suns’ number, with a 12-3 advantage in meetings over the past three years including the 4-1 western conference finals playoff series two years ago. Perhaps the only potential stumbling block for San Antonio is a motivated Amare Stoudemire, but look for the Suns, who only play seven players, coming off another brutal first round series against the Lakers, to be burned out.

The Dallas Mavericks are the toughest hurdle for the San Antonio Spurs. In what is quickly becoming a great Texas rivalry, the most important match up is to be found on the sidelines as Avery Johnson going up against his former coach Greg Popovich, both of whom have known nothing but success as head coaches. At first glace, San Antonio appears to have the tougher route to the western finals with Denver and Phoenix. However, Dallas cannot sleep on Don Nelson’s Golden State Warriors and the Utah Jazz or Houston Rockets, which may turn out to be the best first round series by the way. The regular season records and games are thrown out the window here. Remember, last year these two teams came down to the final minute in overtime of Game 7 in a classic series. As basketball fans, we can only hope for a similar showdown.

The Eastern Conference will actually be decided in the second round when the Detroit Pistons and the Miami Heat face off. No one in the east has yet to come up with answers for Dwayne Wade and Shaq. The Detroit Pistons could not beat the Heat last year with Ben Wallace, so without him they are even worse off. The aging Big Ben has never been able to contain Shaq and scare Wade away from the paint, so the Chicago Bulls, as great as they are defensively as a team, will fall to Miami again. The Toronto Raptors have been a great story, but they simply lack the experience for a deep playoff run. The Cleveland Cavaliers’ Zydrunas Igauskas wants no part of The Big Fella. Miami has been plagued by physical injuries and mental disinterest throughout the season. The players have openly admitted that they were simply playing for a playoff spot, rather than a good record and higher seed. As shown by last year’s championship run, this deep group of veterans can simply turn up the heat when it matters. Gary Payton, Antoine Walker, Jason Williams, Eddie Jones, and Alonzo Mourning are all former all-stars who can make big plays when called upon. James Posey, Udonis Haslem, and Jason Kapono round up a deep supporting cast. As TNT’s Kenny Smith would say, the Miami Heat are built for the playoffs, not all that unlike the San Antonio Spurs.