Thursday, June 07, 2007

Tipping off: NBA Finals Preview

The NBA's King is in position to firmly take control of his throne. After walloping the Wizards, nipping the Nets, and posterizing the Pistons, LeBron James has the Cleveland Cavaliers in the franchises first-ever NBA Finals.

It sounds good on paper. The NBA's golden boy in the finals. The "next MJ" is about to take that step toward greatness. Winning the championship in his fourth season puts LeBron in a category by himself -- as in he's doing this virtually by himself.

There's just one problem.

The San Antonio Spurs - winners of three of the last eight NBA Finals - are back in the big show. Anchored by Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, the defenders of the Alamo are set to once again conquer the Association. Yes, I've seen that one highlight of LeBron dunking over Duncan from this season. But, please please EPSN, get over it. It's one highlight. Check it out when you're watching Sportscenter. That's the only highlight they're showing of James, because he hasn't really done much else.

Yes, he beat the Pistons with an amazing performance to secure that series in the pivotal Game 5 in Detroit. But while it seems so many people are drinking James's Kool-Aid, I'm not ready to grab a cup and fill 'er up.

One thing to keep in mind for the NBA Finals is the scheduling format. It's no longer a 2-2-1-1-1 series. The Finals are 2-3-2. Some people argue that it's very hard for the lower seed to win three consecutive home games - then Detroit and Miami dispelled that myth in 2004 and 2006, respectively. For this series, I think the Spurs defend their home court. They've done a decent job of it throughout the playoffs - not flawless, but good enough. The Cavs on the other hand haven't dominated on the road in the postseason.

If the Spurs win the first two games, the Cavs will be more than capable of bouncing back and evening the series at 2-2. But I think that fifth game is when San Antonio's experience will come into play. Unlike the Pistons - whose we'll show up when we feel like it mentality during the postseason left them at home for the Finals - the Spurs know how to rise to the occasion. The team around LeBron is too young and too inexperienced to truly compete with San Antonio.

Don't get me wrong. Cleveland is good. LeBron is borderline great. But they are going to need to wait a year before they bring home a title to Cleveland.

I know some of the stats say that the Cavs can contend. As a matter of fact, I think they'll do more than contend. They'll downright push the Spurs to the brink. But when the Spurs get pushed to the brink, more often than not they push back much harder. (And when they're not pushing back, Manu Ginobili is fouling Dirk Nowitzki to send the Mavs to the 2006 Western Conference Finals.) Point is, the Spurs don't lose all that much in the playoffs.

Look at the teams that have beaten San Antonio in the past few postseasons:
2006 - Mavericks (conference semis) - 7 games
2005 - NBA Champions
2004 - Los Angeles Lakers (conference semis) - 6 games
2003 - NBA Champions
2002 - Los Angeles Lakers (conference semis) - 5 games

Those Lakers teams were untouchable, and that Mavericks team benefitted from the Leon Lett Appreciation Moment of Ginobili's career.

Tell me exactly how the Cavs are going to put their names on that list?

They won't. Not this season.

No Joshin' prediction: Spurs in 6

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