Thursday, June 7, 2007

Nate Bowler's NBA Finals Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. San Antonio Spurs

First off, I need to address something that is really starting to get on my nerves. The national media has all but awarded the championship to the Spurs, and from what I've been reading, you'd think Cleveland was sending the local high school squad to play in the finals. Many pundits are calling them the worst finals team in NBA history. Well, hear this people: the Cavs are NOT getting swept in this series. Hell, they may not even lose this series. If I'm wrong I'll gladly eat these words (with a generous coating of mayonnaise), but I repeat: the Cavs are NOT GOING TO BE SWEPT. The Cavaliers may not have the best offense in the league, but right now they are playing absolutely the best defense, and defense wins playoff games. Just ask the Pheonix Suns.

The funny thing is, if the Pistons were playing in the finals, all these so-called experts would certainly give them a fighting chance. Well, did they see the Pistons get DESTROYED by the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals? I'm guessing they did, so what gives? Oh well, what did I expect? When was the last time Cleveland got any respect for anything?

Anyway, here it goes. I have to admit I never anticipated writing this when the playoffs started, but I'm not going to complain. My Cavs are in the NBA finals for the first time ever, and I'm going to relish every moment of it. They've certainly earned it, and I don't want to hear a word about their "easy road" to the finals, and just keep your "Leastern Conference" comments to yourself. The east has won 2 of the last three titles.

OK, so the Spurs are going to be tough to handle. Clearly. We're talking about a legitimate NBA dynasty featurning one of the great forwards of all-time. The odds do seem heavily tilted in the Spurs favor, but are they really? Let's take a closer look at things, eh? Dating back to the '05-'06 season, the Cavs have won 3 out of 4 games. While regular season games signify little when it comes to the postseason, it is noteworthy, I think, that the Cavs won for the first time in 17 years at San Antonio this season. But the Spurs are no slouches defensively, either, and they have a very well-balanced offensive attack that will be the Cavs biggest defensive challenge of the postseason.

How important is the home court advantage in this series? Huge, but if the Cavs manage to steal game two (assuming they will be overwhelmed by it all in game one), I think they could legitimately close out the series in five. That's right, people. FIVE GAMES. I think it's going to be an extremely competitive series, but realistically, I'm going to have to be, well, realistic. My official prediction is Spurs in seven. While I hate to beat a dead horse, I believe their experience gives them a slight, and I said slight, edge over the young Cavs.

As I see it, the Cavs have three huge factors going for them in this series: the best player in the NBA, the best defense in the NBA, and a big advantage on the glass. The Spurs have but one player who averaged over five rebounds in the regular season compared to four for the Cavs.

A glance at individual matchups:

PG: Larry Hughes vs. Tony Parker. This is going to be a tough one. Tony Parker has been really tough to guard lately, and Larry Hughes is injured. The Cavs have to hope that Hughes can give them the little bursts of early offense he provided against Detroit, and then hope the bench can contain Parker and his quickness. Advantage: Parker.

SG: Sasha Pavlovic vs. Michael Finley. This is a young athlete against a wily veteran. Finley was once an explosive talent, but mostly he just pops three pointers now. Nearly identical stats are misleading, since Sasha never got legit minutes until the end of the season. Sasha needs to not let him have any room, because he can get very, very hot. Overall though, this will be a break for Sasha after chasing Richard Hamilton and Vince Carter for the last two series. Advantage: Pavlovic.

SF: LeBron James vs. Bruce Bowen. This matchup is a joke. The great defender Bowen's only hope is to injure LeBron, which he will certainly try to do, because he's a dirty bastard. This of course will only make LeBron mad. Expect Bowen's manhood to end up wherever LeBron is keeping Tayshaun Prince's. Same story: double teams, triple teams, quarduple teams. Keep 'em coming. Advantage: LeBron.

PF: Drew Gooden vs. Tim Duncan. Fortunately, the Spurs' biggest star doesn't have quite the lopsided advantage that ours does. But, then again, Tim Duncan is Tim Duncan. Watch his flawless play torment the Cavs. I hate him right now for being an enemy Spur, but Duncan's game is magnificent. Anyone who thinks he's boring has a low IQ. Drew must use his energy and youth to the best of his ability. The rest of the team must help and rotate when he makes a picture perfect pass out of the double team. No snoozing. Advantage: Duncan.

C: Zydrunas Ilgauskas vs. Fabricio Oberto. Oberto never seems to miss, a sure sign that he is paid no attention to. That makes him this series' Mikki Moore. Annoying, in other words. Z is going to have to keep doing what he does: hit open jumpers and tip in missed shots. Advantage: Z.

Bench: No pressure, rook, but Daniel Gibson absolutely has to keep stroking that jumpshot to free up LeBron. Otherwise, the Cavs have the NBA's best sixth man, Anderson Varejao, and two other guys, Damon Jones and Donyell Marshall, who can get hot at any time and likely will at some point. Too bad they're never hot at the same time. Look for Varejao and Marshall to really push that rebounding advantage, and for Varejao to give the Spurs fits. The Spurs have a lot of guys who can really nail the three in Brent Barry, who is lights out, and Matt Bonner, who has red hair. There is also, of course, Robert Horry, who is looking to demoralize yet another NBA finals opponent en route to like his 29th ring. Francisco Elson? Not too scared of his 3 and 3 average, but who knows? Let's be serious though. The Spurs have Manu Ginobili coming off the bench. That's ridiculous and it means points. Advantage: Spurs.

Coaching: Mike Brown vs. Gregg Popovich. While the national media can't get enough of Popovich, they don't have a nice word to say to Mike Brown. Is it a coincidence that this is a matchup of student and disciple? No. Their systems work, and it's time to give Mike Brown some credit for installing a back-breaking, soul-crushing defense in Cleveland. His team hustles, it rebounds, it nullifies good offenses. Talk to Detroit; they know. If I had the choice between Mike Brown and Mike D'Antoni, for example, I take Brown 10 out of 10 times. Yes, Mike Brown's offense has major holes. Blah, blah. He is coaching in the NBA finals in his second year. He is 19-10 all time in the playoffs. Cavs fans should be kissing his feet. I sure know I'd like to. That said, Popovich is one hell of a coach who is doing this for the fourth time and has never lost in the finals. Advantage: Popovich.

N8's Random thoughts:

Don't be surprised if this is the series in which LeBron really makes his critics eat crow. It is no accident that the Cavs are here. They've grown up and they've earned it.

Is it just me, or is EVERYONE jumping on the "Tim Duncan is the greatest power forward ever" bandwagon? Too bad he's a center. OK, so say he is a forward. Obviously he's one of the best. He has been for years. The best? The field is pretty loaded: Karl Malone, Jerry Lucas, Elvin Hayes, Gus Johnson, Dennis Rodman, Kevin McHale, Dave DeBusschere, Charles Barkley, Bob Pettit, Kevin Garnett, Dolph Schayes, Spencer Haywood. These are not bums. Know who isn't on my list? Chris Webber.

These games are going to be close and low-scoring. I predict most of them will be in the low eighties, high seventies.

Yes, LeBron should have signed that letter on Darfur. I'm still waiting for the next Muhammed Ali to come along. Etan Thomas and Ira Newble somehow can't quite fill the shoes.



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