Amid the NBA's coaching carousel, talks of LeBron James' future stardom and the possible end of the Los Angeles Lakers' dynasty, a new champion will soon be crowned, the New Jersey Nets or the San Antonio Spurs.
Although the well-rested Nets have won ten straight playoff games, each win has come against Eastern Conference foes that couldn't hold a candle to a good Yugoslavian team. The Spurs, led by back-to-back MVP Tim Duncan, are perhaps only in the finals because of injuries to Dirk Nowitzki of the Mavericks and Chris Webber of the Kings.
This series may come down to how well the Nets' Kenyon "K-Mart" Martin and Duncan, the best power forwards in their respective conferences, fare against each other. Martin brings extraordinary athleticism and desire while Duncan brings a workmanlike ability to get the job done. The Nets' hopes rest on whether Martin can contain Duncan.
Duncan, an extremely fundamental player in a league lacking fundamentals, might be boring to watch at times, but his numbers speak for themselves. This season, he averaged 23.3 points, along with nearly 13 rebounds and three blocks per game, and has been named to the all-NBA first team in each of his six seasons.
If the Nets are forced to double team Duncan, then one of the Spurs' many role players would be left open, including forwards Stephen Jackson or Bruce Bowen. The Spurs' backcourt, composed of French import Tony Parker and Argentinean import Manu Ginobili, was surprisingly a key factor in the Spurs' league best 62-20 record (13 wins more than the Nets) and home court advantage for the entire playoffs.
The Nets may have to rely on Jason Kidd, easily the league's best point guard, who may be lured to the Spurs as a free-agent over the off-season. His leadership skills, unselfishness, clutch shooting and play-making abilities have enabled him to become the best pure point guard since Isiah Thomas. Kidd will be joined by New Jersey's explosive small forward Richard Jefferson in the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
We've all heard the saying that "defense wins championships," but rarely is the cliché as true as it is this year. The Nets edged out the Spurs in points allowed by only letting their opponents score 90.1 points verses the Spurs' 90.4, second and third best in the NBA respectively.
Although the Spurs are the favorites on paper, they have lost six double-digit second half leads in the playoffs thus far, not exactly a statistic of a dominant NBA champion. However, San Antonio's depth and playoff experience should outweigh the Nets' free-throw advantage and zone defense.
Only one out of the last five non-Jordan Eastern Conference champions have been able to win more than one game against their superior western opponents in the finals, including the Lakers' sweep of the Nets last year. Although the two teams split the season series, New Jersey sports fans might be better off rooting for the Devils to win the Stanley Cup.
Most Wizards fans will do what is always done when June comes along, root for the geographically closer team. However, the Spurs' fundamental superiority will allow them to win their first championship (in a non-lockout shortened season) in franchise history.
Silver Chips Pick: Spurs win in six games
Game 1, Nets (89) at Spurs (101); Spurs lead 1-0
Game 2, Nets (87) at Spurs (85); Series tied 1-1
Game 3, Spurs (84) at Nets (79); Spurs lead 2-1
Game 4, Spurs (76) at Nets (77); Series tied 2-2
Game 5, Spurs (93) at Nets (83); Spurs lead 3-2
Sun, June 15: Nets at Spurs, 8:30 p.m.
Wed, June 18: Nets at Spurs, 8:30 p.m. (if necessary)
Some information compiled from ESPN.com
Zach Mellman. Zach Mellman was born on October 18, 1956 (he was held back once or twice). He has lived in Takoma Park, Maryland his entire life. He is currently a senior at Blair enrolled in honors classes. He is also a member of Blair's golf team, … More »