Friday , Apr , 20 , 2007 C.Y. Ellis

NBA Playoff Preview – San Antonio vs. Denver

(Sports Network) – Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson and the sixth-seeded Denver
Nuggets will be put to the test in the first round of the playoffs, as they
face the third-seeded San Antonio Spurs in a best-of-seven series.

There is some playoff history between the Spurs and Nuggets. San Antonio beat
the Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs in 1990, 1995 and 2005 and in
the conference semis in 1983, while Denver defeated the Spurs in the opening
round in 1985.

The Spurs are appearing in the postseason for the 10th straight year and have
won three of the last eight NBA championships. Last season, San Antonio
was eliminated in the Western Conference semifinals by the Dallas Mavericks in
seven games.

All-Stars Tim Duncan and Tony Parker were once again the Spurs top players
during the 2006-07 campaign. Duncan led the club in scoring (20.0 ppg) and
rebounding (10.6 rpg), while Parker was the team’s top assist man at 5.5 per
game.

Duncan and Parker enter the postseason with a veteran supporting cast that is
built to win now. Thirty-six-year-old forward Robert Horry, who has six
championship rings, usually saves his best play for the playoffs, while Manu
Ginobili will give the team needed energy at critical times and Brent Barry
and Michael Finley will provide steady play. Defensive stopper Bruce Bowen is
always ready to do whatever it takes to make the opposition’s top-scorer work
hard for his points.

Gregg Popovich, who has led the Spurs to three NBA championships during his
tenure in San Antonio and was named the 2003 NBA Coach of the Year, is a great
leader and obviously knows that it takes to win in the postseason.

The last time the Spurs lost in the first round of the playoffs was in 2000,
when they lost to the Phoenix Suns, 3-1.

Denver earned its fourth straight playoff berth. The Nuggets have been
eliminated three straight years in the opening round of the postseason,
and are 3-12 during that span. They fell in five games in the opening round
to Minnesota in 2004, San Antonio in 2005 and the Clippers in 2006.

The last time the Nuggets advanced to the second round of the playoffs
was during the 1994 postseason. Denver upset the SuperSonics in five games,
3-2, in the opening round that season, but was ousted in seven games by
Utah in the Western semifinals.

The Nuggets are playing their best basketball at the right time of year.
However, to say the Denver’s season was boring would a be an understatement.
On December 16th, another embarrassing moment for the NBA occurred during the
Nuggets’ 123-100 victory over the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

Denver had the game in hand and were headed towards victory late in the fourth
quarter. However, Nuggets head coach George Karl still had some of his
starters on the court, including Anthony, while New York had its reserves on
the court to finish out the contest.

With Denver leading 119-100, New York rookie Mardy Collins committed a hard
flagrant foul against J.R. Smith on a breakaway layup with about 1:15 left in
the contest. Chaos then broke out, as Smith and Knicks guard Nate Robinson
started to wrestle and both went onto the ground. Anthony lost his cool and
blindsided Collins with a punch that seemed to knock the rookie to the ground.
Knicks forward Jared Jeffries went after Anthony, who backpedaled towards his
bench and away from Jeffries.

NBA Commissioner David Stern handed down significant suspensions. Anthony
received a 15-game suspension, Robinson and Smith were both suspended for 10
games, Collins got six, Jeffries received four and Nene and Jerome James both
were suspended for one game. The Knicks and Nuggets were both fined $500,000
for the incident.

Just days after the infamous brawl, the Nuggets made a blockbuster trade
when they acquired Iverson on December 19th from the Philadelphia 76ers for a
pair of 2007 first-round draft picks, point guard Andre Miller and forward Joe
Smith.

The Nuggets struggled, but the team eventually jelled and they put together a
season-best eight-game winning streak from April 1-13, which helped them move
securely into the sixth spot in the West.

Anthony, who averaged a team-best 28.9 points per game, and Iverson are
learning to play together, while center Marcus Camby, Nene, Steve Blake, who
was acquired from Milwaukee during the season, and Smith are all doing their
part for Karl, who has arguably done his best job as a head coach.

Karl has plenty of playoff experience. 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 in six games.

During the regular season, the Spurs were 2-1 versus Denver. The teams split a
pair of contests at the AT&T Center, while San Antonio beat the Nuggets,
92-83, on January 10th at the Pepsi Center.

STARTING FRONTCOURT: Duncan is still one of the top forwards in the game,
while Francisco Elson, who finished his first season with the Spurs, has been
serviceable in the middle and Bowen knows his role and takes a lot of pride in
his defensive work.

Camby, who led the Nuggets in rebounding (11.7 rpg), Nene and Anthony will
need to step up their games big time if the Nuggets hope to have a chance
against the Spurs. Anthony will have to deal with the tenacious Bowen, while
Camby’s athleticism could work in Denver’s favor. Nene must work hard down low
and produce in the paint.

Duncan and Anthony are going to do their thing. The difference will be if
Camby and Nene can outwork their opponents. This is the matchup that Denver
has to find an edge.

On paper, this matchup looks good for the Nuggets. But on the court its just
not the case. Duncan will rise to the occasion and put up big numbers.

EDGE: EVEN

STARTING BACKCOURT: Popovich could switch his starting backcourt from game-to-
game. Parker will always be at the point, while Barry, Finley or Ginobili are
all capable backcourt mates for the All-Star Parker.

Parker has a solid all-around game and fits perfectly into Popovich’s style of
play. Barry is steady, Finley excels in transition and Ginobili is very
dangerous when his game is on.

Iverson and Blake have become a formidable backcourt. Iverson, who led the
Sixers to the 2001 NBA Finals and is a former NBA MVP, lives for this time of
year. He will have something to prove and will bring his best play to this
series.

Blake is dangerous from the perimeter and seems to be comfortable with his
role in Denver. He needs to knock down his shots to help open up the court for
Anthony and Iverson.

Any San Antonio combination will be tough defensively for the Nuggets
backcourt duo to handle. As great as Iverson is, this is his first test in the
Western Conference playoffs.

EDGE: SPURS

BENCH: Experience and depth gives the Spurs the advantage. Horry and whichever
two guards (Barry, Finley, Ginobili) give Popovich three solid options off the
bench. The Spurs’ general will have flexibility, as all are capable of playing
multiple positions.

Matt Bonner is a decent reserve forward who can score, while guard Beno Udrih
and center Fabricio Oberto will log minutes when needed for the Spurs.

Karl will look to Reggie Evans, Linas Kleiza, Eduardo Najera and Smith to give
him valuable minutes off the pine. Smith will provide an offensive spark,
while Evans, Kleiza and Najera are not afraid to get their hands dirty. If the
Nuggets have to rely on their bench, they will be in big trouble.

EDGE: SPURS

PREDICTION: The Spurs play a complete game and have all the pieces in place
for another championship run. The Nuggets improved and made major strides at
the end of the season, but it won’t be enough help them overcome Duncan and
the rest of the Spurs.

SPURS IN FIVE

DEN SAN