Saturday , May , 19 , 2007 C.Y. Ellis

NBA Playoff Preview – San Antonio vs. Utah

(Sports Network) – The third-seeded San Antonio Spurs and No. 4 Utah battle
for the right to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals, as the
teams meet in a best-of-seven series.

This is the fourth time that these teams have met in the playoffs. The Jazz
are 3-0 against San Antonio in the postseason. Utah defeated the Spurs, 3-1,
in the first round of the 1994 playoffs, and in the semifinals in 1996, 4-2,
and 1998, 4-1.

San Antonio has advanced to the Western Conference finals for the eighth time
in franchise history. The Spurs played the Lakers in 1982, 1983 and 2001,
Houston in 1995, Portland in 1999, Dallas in 2003 and Phoenix in 2005. San
Antonio is 3-4 in this round.

The Spurs, who lost in seven to the Dallas Mavericks in last year’s
semifinals, knocked out No. 6 Denver in five games in the opening round and
survived a tough six-game series with the second-seeded Suns.

San Antonio’s victory over the Suns was full of controversy. Spurs forward
Robert Horry was suspended two games by the NBA, while Phoenix forwards Amare
Stoudemire and Boris Diaw received one game apiece for an incident in Game 4.

The penalties came as the result of a flagrant foul call on Horry, who
delivered a forearm to Suns guard Steve Nash with 18.2 seconds left in Game 4
at the AT&T Center. Horry was suspended for flagrantly fouling Nash and
striking Raja Bell above the shoulders with a forearm. Stoudemire and Diaw
were suspended for leaving “the immediate vicinity of their bench” during an
altercation, according to Stu Jackson, the NBA’s executive vice president of
basketball operations.

Horry served his suspension by sitting out Games 5 and 6 of the series, while
Stoudemire and Diaw missed the pivotal Game 5, which was won by the Spurs,
88-85, at US Airways Center.

All-Stars Tim Duncan and Tony Parker have been unbelievable for the Spurs in
the postseason. Duncan leads the club in scoring (23.8 ppg) and rebounding
(12.3 rpg), while Parker is averaging 19.6 points and a team-best 6.2 assists
per game.

While Duncan and Parker are playing at the top of their games, Manu Ginobili
decided to show up against Phoenix and was a huge factor in the 4-2 series
victory. Ginobili is averaging 15.8 points, 6.0 boards and 4.1 assists in the
postseason, and continually knocked down big shots to help the Spurs make it
back to the conference finals.

San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich, who has led the Spurs to three NBA
championships during his tenure in San Antonio and was named the 2002-2003 NBA
Coach of the Year, knows how to get the most out of his team and once again
has figured out how to get them to the brink of earning a fourth trip to the
NBA Finals.

The Spurs are in the postseason for the 10th straight year and have won three
of the last eight NBA championships.

The Jazz have returned to the West finals for the first time since 1998, when
they swept the Los Angeles Lakers, 4-0. They are 2-3 in the conference finals.
Utah also defeated the Houston Rockets in six in 1997, and lost to Seattle,
4-3, in 1996, the Rockets, 4-1, in 1994 and in 1992 to Portland, 4-2.

Utah defeated the fifth-seeded Houston Rockets in seven games in the first
round. The Jazz won Game 7, 103-99, at the Toyota Center to advance to the
semis for the first time since 2000. The Rockets had the home-court advantage
in the set since they had a better regular-season record.

In the conference semifinals, the Jazz disposed of No. 8 Golden State in five
games. Utah, which split Games 3 and 4 at ORACLE Arena, won all three of its
home games against the Warriors, and improved to 6-0 at EnergySolutions Arena
during the playoffs.

Carlos Boozer has been unbelievable for Utah in the postseason. The Duke
product leads the Jazz in scoring (24.4 ppg) and rebounding (12.3 rpg).
He is shooting and impressive 53.9 percent from the floor and has made 72
percent of his foul shots. Boozer has come through in the clutch, and has
been a shining star in the playoffs.

Deron Williams, who is appearing in his first postseason and completed his
sophomore campaign in the league, is averaging 16.4 points, 4.6 boards and a
team-high 8.9 assists in the playoffs, while Mehmet Okur has contributed 13.7
points and 9.1 boards.

Veteran guard Derek Fisher, who is averaging 11.0 points in the playoffs, has
been an inspiration. He did not play in Game 1 against Golden State because
his daughter has a form of eye cancer. Fisher hit big shots during the semis
and came through when the Warriors needed him most.

Utah ended a three-year playoff drought by qualifying for this year’s
postseason. Prior to the 2006-07 campaign, the Jazz last appeared in the
playoffs in 2003 when they were eliminated in five games by the Sacramento
Kings in the opening round.

Head coach Jerry Sloan has guided the Jazz to the playoffs for the 16th time
during his tenure with the club. Sloan, who has been general on the Utah bench
since the 1988-89 campaign, is 86-84 all-time in the playoffs, 84-80 with the
Jazz.

During the regular season, the teams split four contests. Both clubs picked up
a pair of victories at home.

San Antonio owns the home-court advantage in this set.

FRONTCOURT: Duncan is still one of the elite forwards in the game and is
playing like he is on a mission, while Francisco Elson and Fabricio Oberto
are serviceable in the middle and Bruce Bowen knows his role and takes a lot
of pride in his defensive work.

It doesn’t matter who Popovich starts in the middle. Elson and Oberto are
there to be physical and hopefully get some garbage points and rebounds.
Duncan had an excellent series against the Suns and will need to do the same
versus Utah.

Okur, Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko, who is averaging 9.8 points and 5.5
rebounds in the postseason, are one of the top all-around frontcourts
in the league. The 6-11 Okur can hit the outside jumper and has some low-post
moves, while Boozer will do his best work off the boards and around the hoop.
The athletic Kirilenko is not producing offensively like he once did, but he
has been solid defensively

On paper, this matchup favors Utah. But, its what happens on the court that
matters. Boozer has been one of the top players in the postseason, but Duncan
is playing like he is in another world.

Duncan will continue his stellar play, and that is the difference here.

EDGE: SPURS

BACKCOURT: Parker has a solid all-around game and fits perfectly into
Popovich’s style of play. Veteran Michael Finley, who is averaging 14.5 points
in the playoffs, excels in transition and should have another strong series
against Utah.

Williams is one of the top point guards in the league and has been awesome in
his first NBA playoffs. The Illinois product can score and has a knack for
getting the ball to his teammates at the right time.

Fisher can handle the ball and is capable of knocking down the long jumper.
The 6-1 Fisher, who completed his first season with Utah, won three
championship rings with the Lakers and was acquired from Golden State last
offseason for this time of year.

The Jazz will have a tough time guarding Finley and Ginobili, who will come
off the bench, in this series. Parker is crafty and has been here before,
while Williams is getting his first taste of the conference finals.

EDGE: SPURS

BENCH: The 36-year-old Horry, who is averaging 6.4 points and 3.9 boards in
the postseason, is back. Horry has won six championship rings in his career,
and seems to play his best basketball during this time of year. Even though he
may ruined his legacy with his actions against the Suns, Horry will once again
be ready to hit the big shot when San Antonio needs a bucket.

Ginobili will be the spark for Popovich off the bench. He is instant offense
and started to play very well in the semis. Versatile guard Brent Barry will
also get some big minutes, and can play both guard spots and small forward.

Sloan will call on veteran swingman Matt Harpring, who can play small forward
or shooting guard, Gordan Giricek, and big man Paul Millsap to play important
minutes off the bench.

Harpring is averaging 10.4 points and 5.3 boards in the playoffs, while
Giricek has made an impressive 52.2 percent (12of-23) of his shots
from beyond the arc. Millsap has been solid down low, and has made 56.6
percent of his shots from the floor and has played over 14 minutes per
contest.

EDGE: SPURS

PREDICTION: San Antonio is headed back to the NBA Finals. Utah will put up a
fight, as the Jazz are tough at home and have great fan support. Duncan will
get the job done on the inside, while Parker will show Williams what it takes
to win the big one. Experience will be a big factor in this series.

SPURS IN SIX

SAN UTA