Thursday, May 03, 2007

Who's Gonna Beat the Spurs?

The San Antonio Spurs, the most consistent team in basketball, will win the NBA Championship this season. Mark my words. But seriously, who in the Western Conference is going to beat them. Their series with the Suns is a study in contrasts with the Spurs wanting to slow it down, and the Suns trying to speed it up. Unfortunately for the Suns, the game matches up extremely well for San Antonio. Think about it, I have a real good feeling this series is going to be miserable for one, Steve Nash. He's not only going to have tp be at his best on the offensive end, but he's going to have his hands full on defense attempting to guard Tony Parker. In their three meetings during the regular season (the SPurs won two of them), Parker averaged over 28 points per game. And Parker might be the one guy in the NBA who might be able to stick with Leandro Barbosa. My gut tells me that Parker is going to wear down Nash when all is said and done since Nash is a mediocre defender at best.

Then, I have to believe the Spurs are going to stick Bruce Bowen on Shawn Marion. Some would say that is a giant mismatch, given that Marion has about three-four inches on Bowen. But don't forget that Marion is not a traditional post-up player, so it's going to be hard for him to take advantage of the size differential, unless he completely alters his game. And on the perimeter, we know what a tenacious defender Bowen can be even if he may have lost a half-step the past couple seasons.

All the key cogs, including Amare and Shawn, will need to be at their best to beat the Spurs.

Now, if you look back to their Western Conference finals series two years ago, the one Sun who absolutely obliterated the Spurs was Amare Stoudamire. I can't envision Amare not having a good series, but do I think he's going to replicate the 35-point, 20-rebound averages of two years ago?...Hell No. The Spurs are going to have this series move at snail's pace if possible because the last thing they need is to run up and down the court with the Suns. And by keeping it slow, Amare's stats are bound to go down. But here's why I think they set up so well with the Suns. For short amounts of time they probably will be able to run with the Suns. Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are great open floor players, who would do it more if they didn't play for Gregg Poppovich. Now if the Spurs are going up and down every possession, they will be in trouble. You can't really compete in an up-and-down game with a roster that includes Nash, Barbosa, Stoudamire and Marion.

And before we get ahead of ourselves, let's remember that the Spurs have one of the best big men of all time in Tim Duncan. And while he doesn't put up the ridiculous numbers that Amare sometimes has, I would take him any day of the week. Duncan is one of those players that whenever the Spurs need a big basket, he'll get it for them. Besides, the Spurs slower tempo means less possessions and therefore less scoring opportunities which explains his sometimes lower stats. Amare is not a good on-the-ball defender and if the Spurs were smart they'd try to get him into foul trouble whenever he's left guarding Duncan in the post. A key for the Suns is going to be getting Duncan into foul trouble. They have two big men, in Amare and Boris Diaw, who can take it to the hole or post up and it needs to be taken advantage of. Get Duncan on the bench and the Spurs lose any semblance of a post game, which will affect their entire offense.

Nash will have to play at an MVP-level on both ends of the floor to win this series. We should truly find out what kind of legacy he'll leave with this series.

The bottom line is that I truly believe the key to this series will be Steve Nash. He will not be able to get away with just igniting the offense and setting up his teammates like in the Lakers' series. Tony Parker exploding and Duncan being his usual-consistent self will be enough to get by the Suns. Nash is going to have to be the complete player that most two-time (and possibly three-time) MVPs should be. For once, he might have to play some defense. This is a series that could come to define Nash's career. He's got the two MVPs but we all know he wants a championship, and this is probably his best shot. He's already 33 and he's got a gimpy back, meaning he's got one, maybe two good years left in him. And with Shawn Marion likely leaving after next season, the time is now for Nash to prove himself as one of the best in the NBA. But I just don't see him doing that. There's no way in my mind he'll be able to stick with Parker this series. And you have to believe Gregg Poppovich has a plan to slow down Nash, and it probably involves Parker wearing him down on the defensive end. The Spurs just held the Nuggets, the second-highest scoring team in the NBA, to under 100 points in every game of their first-round series. They won't replicate that against the Suns. They just have too many weapons. But they'll do it enough to win the series.

Spurs in 6.

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