San Antonio Versus Cleveland PreviewNBA Finals
San Antonio (58-24) vs. Cleveland (50-32)
Cleveland can win if…LeBron James plays at a Michael Jordan level, the Cavaliers hold their own on the boards and someone--perhaps Daniel Gibson or Sasha Pavlovic--steps up to make open shots whenever James is double-teamed.
San Antonio will win because…winning championships is what the Tim Duncan-era Spurs do. Duncan already owns three rings and three Finals MVPs and the only team that has beaten him more than once in the playoffs when he was fully healthy was the Shaquille O'Neal-Kobe Bryant Lakers.
Other things to consider: There is certainly the possibility that we are witnessing--to borrow a phrase--LeBron James' 1991 Michael Jordan moment. That was the year that Jordan's Bulls finally knocked off the Pistons and then beat Magic Johnson's Lakers in the Finals. Johnson was of course the dominant ring bearer of that era--winning five championships--but those 1991 Lakers were hardly in the same class as the title winning editions. James and the Cavaliers face a Spurs team that is arguably playing as well as any of the three San Antonio championship teams. It is asking a lot of James to lead this Cleveland team to a series win over this San Antonio team but if he does it will certainly be the stuff of which legends are made. This series has some intriguing subplots. Cleveland is basically "San Antonio East"; Cleveland General Manager Danny Ferry started his front office career with the Spurs and Assistant General Manager Lance Blanks, Coach Mike Brown and Assistant Coach Hank Egan all previously worked for the Spurs as well. Bruce Bowen will obviously draw the assignment of guarding James but Bowen has not had great success against James recently: Cleveland has beaten San Antonio three games in a row and James averaged 32.7 ppg in those contests. It is important to understand that the outcome of this series does not necessarily depend on Bowen holding down James' scoring; his job is to make James work hard for his points and to enable the other four Spurs to guard their men one on one without having to provide help. The Spurs survived some big scoring games from Amare Stoudemire and Carlos Boozer in previous rounds; they never worry too much about one man beating them as long as they are able to corral the spot up three point shooters and prevent any kind of dribble penetration that leads to easy points in the paint. The Spurs' nightmare is not a 40 point night by James but a 25 point, 10 assist night during which Gibson, Pavlovic and others shoot a high percentage from the three point line and/or get a lot of fast break layups off of turnovers.
posted by David Friedman @ 12:44 AM