Thursday , Apr , 21 , 2005 C.Y. Ellis

NBA Playoff Preview – San Antonio vs. Denver

***** NBA Playoff Preview – San Antonio vs. Denver *****
From The Sports Network

By Warren Blatt, NBA Editor

SAN ANTONIO SPURS: 2nd Seed, West (59-23)

DENVER NUGGETS: 7th Seed, West (49-33)

(Sports Network) – The second-seeded San Antonio Spurs start their quest for
their second championship in three years, as they face No. 7 Denver in a best-
of-seven series in the first round of the 2005 NBA playoffs.

Last season, the Spurs, who defeated New Jersey in six games in the 2003 NBA
Finals, were eliminated by the Los Angeles Lakers in six games in the Western
Conference semifinals, while Denver, which was appearing in the playoffs for
the first time since 1995, fell in five games to the Minnesota Timberwolves,
who were the top seed, in the opening round.

There is some playoff history between the Spurs and Nuggets. San Antonio beat
the Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs in 1983, 1990 and 1995, while
Denver defeated the Spurs in the opening round in 1985.

The Southwest Division champion Spurs will depend once again on two-time
league MVP Tim Duncan in the postseason. He is healthy after suffering a
severely sprained right ankle on March 20th against Detroit. Duncan and fellow
All-Star Manu Ginobili had excellent seasons and will need to continue their
performance in the playoffs if San Antonio hopes to get back to the
championship.

Point guard Tony Parker led San Antonio in assists (6.1 apg), while Duncan was
the Spurs leading scorer (20.3 ppg) and rebounder (11.1 rpg). The 22-year-old
Parker has continued to develop into one of the league’s best lead guards and
he played a big part in San Antonio’s success during the regular season.

Duncan, Ginobili and Parker are the three key players for the Spurs, who
are a veteran club with a ton of playoff experience. The Spurs can play any
style of game and are well equipped to win in the postseason.

Denver’s season turned around when Kiki Vandeweghe hired current head coach
George Karl on January 27th. The Nuggets were 17-25 when their new general
came to the rescue. Under the leadership of Karl, the Nuggets compiled an
impressive 32-8 record. Karl became the team’s general when he was hired to
replace interim head coach Michael Cooper.

Second-year pro Carmelo Anthony had a solid year for the Nuggets, as he led
the team in scoring (20.8 ppg) and also pulled down a respectable 5.7 rebounds
per game. He has adapted well to Karl’s coaching style and has been open to
any changes that were implemented by the new coach.

Forward Kenyon Martin, who was acquired last offseason in a sign-and-trade
deal with the Nets, fit in well with his new teammates. He was second on the
team in scoring (15.6 ppg) and rebounding (7.3 rpg). The 27-year-old Martin
brought his intensity on defense and it had a major impact on Denver’s
success.His playoff experience and leadership will prove to be very valuable
if the Nuggets hope to advance past round one.

When Karl was able to get Anthony and Martin to buy into his system everything
else fell into place. Center Marcus Camby, forward Nene and guards Earl
Boykins and Andre Miller followed and the wins started to pile up for Denver.
The Nuggets put together impressive winning streaks and lost back-to-back
games only once under Karl.

The Nuggets were 31-10 at the Pepsi Center this season and were 18-23 as the
visitor. They won their last 12 home games of the regular season and were 19-1
under Karl in front of their home crowd.

During the regular season, the Nuggets and Spurs split four games as each club
won once at home and once on the road.

FRONTCOURT: Duncan, Rasho Nesterovic and Bruce Bowen represent San Antonio up
front. All three players have different roles, as Duncan does it all, while
the center Nesterovic is asked to rebound and Bowen, who played all 82
regular-season games and averaged 8.2 points and 3.5 rebounds, plays tough
defense against the opposition’s best scorer.

Anthony, Camby and Martin are a formidable opponent for San Antonio’s
frontcourt. Anthony and Martin are the energy of the Nuggets and are asked to
carry a big load, while Camby, who averaged 10.3 points and 10 rebounds in 66
games, is a great shot-blocker and can use his athleticism to score some
points and grab some boards.

Duncan is the best player in this matchup, but Denver’s trio will more than
hold its own on both ends of the court. This is the main event of this series.

EDGE: DENVER

BACKCOURT: San Antonio’s Parker and Ginobili have the advantage here. Both
players are not afraid to shine in the postseason and they will definitely be
up to the challenge.

Parker was second on the team in scoring during the regular season at 16.6
points per game. He does not get the respect he deserves and this will once
again motivate him to have a big series. Ginobili, who averaged 16 points, 4.4
rebounds and 3.9 assists, will get a lot of easy points in transition and
should help keep San Antonio’s offense flowing.

Miller is the key for Denver’s backcourt. He will work with DerMarr Johnson to
try and keep San Antonio from getting off to a big start. The 29-year-old
Miller posted 13.6 points and a team-high 6.9 assists during the season, while
Johnson netted 7.1 per game in 71 contests.

Ginobili and Parker will prove to be too much for Miller and Johnson to
handle.

EDGE: SAN ANTONIO

BENCH: Veterans Brent Barry, Nazr Mohammed, Glenn Robinson, who was signed as
a free agent on April 4th, and Robert Horry give San Antonio a deep and
experienced bench. The Spurs also have Devin Brown and rookie Beno Udrih.

Robinson, who averaged 10 points in nine games played, adds instant offense,
at forward off the pine, while reserve Mohammed can rebound and score from the
low post. Horry lives for playoff time and is known for his clutch
performances and Barry can play either guard spot and is an intelligent player
that does not make a lot of mistakes.

Boykins is Denver’s spark plug off the bench. The 5-5 guard had a great
regular season, as he averaged 12.4 points and 4.5 assists in over 26 minutes
of action. Nene is the Nuggets best reserve frontcourt player, as he is a good
rebounder who can score around the basket.

Denver is not nearly as deep as the Spurs, and this could have a huge impact
on the series if the Nuggets’ starters get in foul trouble.

EDGE: SAN ANTONIO

COACH: Gregg Popovich has guided the Spurs to a pair of NBA championships
(1999, 2003) during his tenure in San Antonio. He was named the 2003 NBA Coach
of the Year and has led San Antonio to the NBA’s best regular season record
three times (1998-99, 2000-01, 2002-03). Popovich knows what it takes to win
the big game and has the pieces to get the job done.

Karl has done a lot of winning during his days as an NBA head coach. He guided
Milwaukee to four playoff berths and compiled a 205-173 mark in five seasons
with the Bucks. Before joining Milwaukee, Karl coached the Cleveland
Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors and Seattle, leading the SuperSonics to the
1996 NBA Finals, only to lose to the Chicago Bulls. Karl has figured out how
to get the most out of his club on both ends of the court and the results
showed up in the standings, as the Nuggets completely turned around a season
that was headed in the wrong direction.

EDGE: EVEN

PREDICTION: The Nuggets have been great since Karl took over. But Denver will
not have enough to beat Duncan and the Spurs four times in a seven-game
series.

SAN ANTONIO IN SIX

DEN SAN