Sunday , May , 20 , 2007 C.Y. Ellis

Spurs host Jazz in opener of West finals

(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 Game 1 of the West finals today at the AT&T Center.

Game 2 of this best-of-seven series is scheduled for Tuesday in San Antonio.

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, 4-2 in the 1996 conference
semifinals, and 4-1 in the 1998 semis.

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 games to the Dallas Mavericks in last year’s
semifinals, knocked out No. 6 Denver in five games in the opening round this
year and then 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 this year. 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 superb for Utah in the postseason. The Duke product
leads the Jazz in scoring (24.4 ppg) and rebounding (12.3 rpg). He is shooting
an 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 and 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 UTA