Tuesday , Nov , 01 , 2005 C.Y. Ellis

Spurs begin their quest for back-to-back titles

=== Spurs begin their quest for back-to-back titles ===

(Sports Network) – A rematch of the first round of last year’s playoffs
takes place on opening night of the 2005-06 NBA season, as the defending
champion San Antonio Spurs welcome the Denver Nuggets to the SBC Center.

Prior to tonight’s contest, the Spurs will receive their championship rings.

The Spurs, who eliminated the Nuggets in five games in the opening round of
the 2005 postseason, are primed to defend their title, and have all the pieces
in place to capture their fourth NBA championship in eight years.

San Antonio has a roster that is ready for the challenge of defending its
world championship. The Spurs have won three titles in the last seven years
and with the addition of two-time All-Star Michael Finley, a fourth crown
could be on the horizon.

The Spurs, who defeated the Detroit Pistons in seven games in the 2004-05 NBA
Finals, had a very productive offseason. They signed Finley and also added
veteran point guard Nick Van Exel, who could fit in very well with a team like
the Spurs, who did allow restricted free agent Devin Brown to join Utah as
they did not match the Jazz’ offer.

Finley and Van Exel join a club that already has All-Stars Tim Duncan and Manu
Ginobili along with 23-year-old point guard Tony Parker, who seems to get
better every year. Duncan, Ginobili and Parker are the keys to San Antonio’s
success. Parker led San Antonio in assists (6.1 apg) during the 2004-05
campaign, while the two- time league MVP Duncan was the Spurs leading scorer
(20.3 ppg) and rebounder (11.1 rpg). Ginobili, who averaged 16 points, 4.4
rebounds and 3.9 assists, had a breakout season and is no longer a mystery in
the NBA circles.

Dallas waived Finley in mid-August, as it used its one-time amnesty exception
to end the eight-plus year run he had with the Mavericks. Finley averaged 15.7
points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists in 64 games for the Mavs during last
season. The 32-year-old Finley, who can play shooting guard or small forward
still has a lot of productive basketball left in him. The Wisconsin product
has a decent outside jumper and is able to get out in transition and score
some easy hoops.

Van Exel’s career is on the down side, but he should be able to be a solid
backup to Parker. Van Exel, who will turn 34 on November 27, has been hampered
by sore knees and had been rumored to be considering retirement. In 53 games
for Portland last season, Van Exel, who is a one-time All-Star, averaged 11.1
points and 4.3 assists while playing just over 30 minutes per contest.

Along with the additions of Finley and Van Exel, San Antonio did re-sign 35-
year-old forward Robert Horry, who has won six championship rings and saves
his best basketball for the postseason, and 7-0 center Sean Marks, who is a
role player.

Bruce Bowen is the Spurs defensive stopper and is ready to resume his role in
the 2005-06 season, while the versatile Brent Barry is a steady no thrills
type of player. Bowen, who averaged 8.2 points and shot over 40 percent from
beyond the arc during last year’s regular season, is known for his tenacious,
in-your face defense. Barry can play both guard spots and came through in some
tough spots during the 2005 postseason.

Not only does San Antonio have an extremely talent roster, but it also has one
of the best head coaches in the league in Gregg Popovich, who has guided the
Spurs to all three NBA championships (1999, 2003, 2005) 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 players
to get the job done.

Denver will be without head coach George Karl, who had his suspension for
violating league draft rules reduced from three games to two. On June 3 Karl
was suspended three games and the Nuggets fined $200,000 by the National
Basketball Association when it was learned that Karl attended workouts at
Marquette University on May 16-18 that involved a player ineligible for the
June 28 draft. Karl will be back on the bench on Friday against Portland.

The Nuggets’ 2004-05 campaign was saved when general manager Kiki Vandeweghe
hired Karl on January 27th. Denver was just 17-25 and sinking fast when its
current head coach came to the rescue. Under the leadership of Karl, who
replaced interim head coach Michael Cooper, the Nuggets compiled an impressive
32-8 record and marched into the playoffs as the seventh seed in the Western
Conference.

However, Denver ran into a buzzsaw in the opening round of the postseason.
After defeating San Antonio in the first game of round one, the Nuggets lost
four consecutive games and were eliminated by the eventual champion Spurs. It
was the second straight year that they have lost in the first round.

Second-year pro Carmelo Anthony had a solid sophomore campaign for the Nuggets
in 2004-05, 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 sparkled under the changes that were implemented by the new coach.

Forward Kenyon Martin, who was acquired in a sign-and-trade deal with the Nets
during the 2004 summer, 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.

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.

Denver re-signed guard DerMarr Johnson in the offseason, and inked free agent
point guard Earl Watson, who spent last season with Memphis to a contract.
Johnson averaged 7.1 points in 71 games in 2004-05 for the Nuggets, while
Watson gives Denver another quick guard who can distribute the ball.

The Nuggets also added North Carolina State guard Julius Hodge with the 20th
overall pick. Hodge is a hard-nosed player who will help defensively. The club
also drafted Jarrett Jack at No. 22, but later dealt his rights to Portland
for the rights to forward Linas Kleiza.

During the 2004-05 season, the Spurs and Nuggets split four contests as each
club won once on the road and once at home. Denver has lost 15 of its last 17
at San Antonio.

DEN SAN