Saturday, May 19, 2007

Western Conference Finals Preview

Okay, so would the three guys who picked the Jazz to make it this far please stand up and let everyone get to match a face with an insane pick that happened to pay off. Great. Please be seated.

This Booze-cruise, led by Carlos Boozer and Co. out of Salt Lake City dismantled the hot-shot Golden State Warriors to get to the conference finals, and they did it with a lot of low-post scoring and stingy defense.

Utah vs. Golden State No Joshin' pick: Warriors in 6
Utah vs. Golden State series result: Jazz in 5

Utah has talent and they have a coach who has been there and knows what it takes to get to the finals. And the only thing that ever stopped Jazz coach Jerry Sloan from capturing an NBA title with Stockton and Malone is no longer a factor (Michael Jordan is retired).

I've either been underestimated the Jazz or overestimating their opponents throughout these playoffs. I've picked against them and each time they make me look foolish by pulling out the series win, including clutch victories in a Game 7 in Houston and causing the only home loss for the Warriors in these playoffs. So perhaps the low-post domination and hustle of the Jazz will be good enough to get them to the finals.

Yeah, maybe if they got to play the Suns or the Lakers or the Nuggets. Oops, all gone. Instead the cheese - the big cheese - stands alone at the Alamo waiting for the Jazz to come to the Lone Star State for a reality check.

The Spurs have faced a bumpy road to get back to another conference finals. I know people are making a big deal about the Pistons being in their fifth straight conference finals, but if not for a snafu in the NBA's playoff seeding, the Spurs would have met the Mavs in the conference finals last season. San Antonio is the real deal. They were the only team in the Western Conference entering this postseason that had proven they have what it takes to win a championship.

Spurs vs. Suns No Joshin' pick: Spurs in 6
Spurs vs. Suns series result: Spurs in 6

In their series against the Suns, San Antonio was able to hang with the Suns and survive numerous barrages of points. San Antonio could keep up with the fast-paced Phoenix Suns, but if they get to play with a slower-paced Jazz team - hey! - all the better. You can look at the two games that the Spurs won in Phoenix and make excuses, which is what the Suns must be doing, for an unbandageable nose and a questionable double-suspension. It's safe to say the Suns/Spurs series - arguably one of the most competitive of the playoffs - turned into a huge disappointment because of those suspensions.

Even so, the Spurs were able to win twice in Phoenix, which is more than really any other team can say or the entirety of the season I suppose. Had Nash gotten patched up, and had Stoudemire and Diaw played in Game 5, I still think the Spurs were the better team and could have pulled out the series.

San Antonio always seemed like a specific type of team. They moved slower, but that's okay because they played tough D. Over the past three seasons, when they've won two playoff series against the run-and-gun Suns, they've shown they are not the slow, old geezers they are labeled as. Different players on that team are coming up big at all the right times. Horry has hit his trademark playoff clutch three-pointer (and also has picked up the moniker "cheap shot bob" for his foul on Nash). Michael Finley had a game where he sank 8-of-9 3-pointers. The regulars like Tony Parkey, Manu Ginobili and - obviously - Tim Duncan come to play each night.

The Spurs are deep. They are stacked. They are ready to return to the conference finals with the intention of getting back to another Finals showdown against the Pistons (or the Cavs if you're that naive).

The Jazz have had a great playoffs this spring. No one expected them to go this far, and when Cinderella comes to the Alamo, her glass slippers are going to get shattered by the girls who regularly attend the NBA Finals Ball.

No Joshin' pick: Spurs in 5


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