Thursday , Apr , 01 , 2010 C.Y. Ellis

NBA Finals Preview – San Antonio vs. Cleveland

(Sports Network) – Superstar LeBron James and the Eastern Conference champion
Cleveland Cavaliers make their first-ever trip to the NBA Finals, as they
battle the Western Conference’s San Antonio Spurs in a best-of-seven series.

The first two games of the series will be played at the AT&T Center, while
Games 3, 4 and 5 (if necessary) will take place at Quicken Loans Arena. If
the set goes to a sixth and seventh game, San Antonio would host those
contests.

During the regular season, Cleveland defeated the Spurs twice. The
Cavaliers picked up an 88-81 victory on November 3, 2006 at the AT&T Center
and edged San Antonio, 82-78, on January 2nd in front of their home crowd.

San Antonio, which was seeded third in the Western Conference, has advanced to
the NBA Finals for the fourth time in franchise history and is a perfect 3-0
in this round. The Spurs defeated the New York Knicks in five in 1999, the
New Jersey Nets in six in 2003 and the Detroit Pistons in seven in 2005.

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,
survived a tough six-game series with the second-seeded Suns and crushed No. 4
Utah in five games. San Antonio is in the postseason for the 10th straight
year.

All-Stars Tim Duncan, who has been on all four of San Antonio’s squads that
have reached the finals, and Tony Parker are having excellent playoffs for
the Spurs. Duncan leads the club in scoring (23.2 ppg) and rebounding
(11.4 rpg), while Parker is averaging 19.8 points and a team-best 6.4 assists
per game.

While Duncan and Parker are playing at the top of their games, Manu Ginobili
has been solid and played his best ball of the postseason against Phoenix in
the semis. Ginobili is averaging 16.4 points, 5.4 boards and 4.0 assists in
the postseason.

Veteran Michael Finley has also done his part during San Antonio’s run to the
championship round. The 6-7 Finley has posted 13.1 points, 3.1 rebounds and is
shooting over 46 percent from beyond the arc.

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 championship.

The Spurs are 7-2 at home and 5-2 on the road in this year’s playoffs.

Cleveland, which lost in seven to Detroit in last year’s East semis, has
advanced to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. James
has stepped up to the next level and has carried the Cavaliers, who were the
second seed in the Eastern Conference, throughout the playoffs. They swept No.
7 Washington, 4-0, in the quarterfinals, beat New Jersey in six in the semis
and surprised the top-seeded Pistons in six in the conference finals.

The 22-year-old James, who scored Cleveland’s final 25 points and finished
with 48 in Game 5s thrilling double-overtime victory over Detroit in the East
finals, has been phenomenal in the postseason. He leads the Cavaliers in
scoring (25.8 ppg) and assists (8.3 apg) in the playoffs.

Rookie Daniel Gibson has also stepped up for the Cavaliers. The Texas product
came through big time against Detroit, as he hit clutch threes and has been
productive while fellow guard Larry Hughes has battled through a heel injury.
Gibson posted 13.5 points per game in the East finals and made 50 percent of
his attempts from three-point range.

Center Zydrunas Ilgauskas is averaging 13.8 points and a club-high 9.5
rebounds in the postseason for Cleveland, while power forward Drew Gooden has
been tough on the boards and has collected 11.1 points and 7.9 rebounds.

Cavaliers head coach Mike Brown, who completed his second campaign on the
Cleveland bench, continues to do an excellent job. Brown, who earned a
championship ring as an assistant with San Antonio in 2003, is 19-10 in the
postseason.

Cleveland is 7-1 as the host and 5-3 as the visitor in this year’s postseason.

FRONTCOURT: Duncan continues to show why he is one of the elite forwards
in the game, while Fabricio Oberto has been a physical presence in the middle
and Bruce Bowen knows his role and takes a lot of pride in his defensive work.

Bowen will follow James, who has grabbed 8.3 rebounds per game during the
postseason, around and make sure he has to work hard for every shot that he
takes. Ilgauskas and Gooden will have to pick up their production on offense,
as the Spurs will be very physical with James and play very tough team
defense. James may be too big for Bowen, but the rest of the Spurs will be
ready to help out.

The Pistons defense couldn’t handle James. Expect San Antonio to bang James
more, and commit hard fouls when Cleveland’s superstar takes the ball to the
hoop.

As great as James has been, Duncan, believe it or not, has been equally
impressive. The San Antonio forward is just not as flashy. The veteran Spurs
have been here before, and experience will be a big factor in this matchup.

EDGE: SPURS

BACKCOURT: Parker has been doing it all and runs Popovich’s offense almost to
perfection. Finley excels in transition and should have another strong series
against the Cavaliers.

Hughes, who is averaging 12.6 points and 4.1 rebounds in the playoffs, hurt
his heel in the Detroit series and is not playing at 100 percent. Sasha
Pavlovic is 6-7 and should be effective against San Antonio because of his
size.

This could be the series where Parker takes over. The Cavaliers will have
trouble keeping up with him, which will allow the middle to open up for
Duncan. Parker is the difference in this matchup and will have a major impact
on the outcome of this series.

EDGE: SPURS

BENCH: The 36-year-old Horry, who is averaging 4.6 points and 3.7 boards in
the postseason, is there when the Spurs need him. Horry has won six
championship rings in his career, and seems to play his best basketball during
this time of year. Horry will once again be ready to hit the big shot when San
Antonio needs a bucket.

Ginobili is the spark for Popovich off the bench. He is instant offense
and has been playing well for Popovich. Versatile guard Brent Barry can play
both guard spots and small forward, while the athletic Francisco Elson will
help Oberto handle Ilgauskas.

Gibson, forwards Donyell Marshall, Anderson Varejao, who is averaging 5.6
points and 6.1 boards in the postseason, and guard Eric Snow give Brown a
solid bench. Marshall is capable of getting hot from long distance, while the
6-10 Varejao’s physical style of play in the paint will be a big asset against
the Spurs.

The Cavaliers need Gibson to continue his stellar play, while Snow is a
veteran and has made it to the NBA Finals for the third time in his career.
Snow was a member of the 1995-96 Seattle SuperSonics, who lost to the
Chicago Bulls in six in the finals, and the 2000-01 Philadelphia 76ers, who
fell in five to the Lakers.

Cleveland’s bench has come through in the clutch throughout the playoffs.
Marshall came alive against New Jersey, while Gibson and Varejao shined in the
conference finals. Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, the playoff-tested Spurs
are just too strong in this matchup as well. San Antonio is mentally tough and
won’t fold under the pressure in any situation that may arise.

EDGE: SPURS

PREDICTION: Duncan and the Spurs earn their fourth championship. It will be
extremely hard for Cleveland to handle Parker, who will have no problem
scoring and handing out assists in this series. LeBron has been great in the
playoffs, and will prevent San Antonio from sweeping the Cavaliers. The Spurs
will simply be too much for Cleveland to handle.

SPURS IN FIVE

CLE SAN