Sunday, May 20

NBA: The Final Four: Part I

As NBA takes today off to take a break from providing us with extremely raw and intense bump-and-grind basketball, we take a look at the final four teams remaining in the ultimate hunt for the association's most coveted price of all: The NBA Championship.

After seven months of intense basketball action, four teams stand above the rest and hold their heads high as they enter the final phase in deciding which among the four teams are the rightful gladiators to compete in the NBA's biggest stage. Four teams, from an original thirty, are now prepared to give the best basketball of their lives in hopes of attaining NBA supremacy. Four teams remain; and one of them will be the eventual victor, one of them will join the elite, one of them will seal their marks on eternal history, only one of them will ultimately be crowned as this year's NBA Champions.

As the Conference Finals commence tonight and continue on until the end of June: tensions will rise, bloods will boil, stars will be made, careers will be ended, dreams will be shattered, and the super human will rise and elevate his team above the other three valiant contenders and hold in the palm his hands the most glorious gold of basketball.

Let us analyze the four teams that remain, how they could possibly fair in their match-up, and which teams we may presume to compete in the final series of the 2007 NBA playoffs.

For all teams, it is now a race to 8 victories. Let's see who gets to compete for the final 4 wins:

Western Conference Finals: San Antonio Spurs (3) vs Utah Jazz (5)

The Underdog: Utah Jazz

The Utah Jazz have surely far exceeded expectations regarding how far they could actually go in the playoffs. Presumed to be sent packing home by the first round, the Jazz are now one series away from the farthest the franchise has ever reached in post-season depth. In the current playoffs' longest series, the Utah Jazz had to steal a win on the road in order to get past a near clone, the Houston Rockets, in 7 games; and then had to suddenly have a change of pace in order to keep up with the speedy Golden State Warriors, only to realize that they had to impose their own pace and will or risk losing, which resulted in the dispatching of the Golden State Warriors in 5 games. Now the Utah Jazz will once again have to fight a near clone of their team, the San Antonio Spurs, which thrive playing under Utah's pace. The Utah Jazz are led by Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams, both of whom have been considered to step in the shoes of legends Karl Malone and John Stockton respectively, and lead the team to where the legends have failed to conquer: The NBA Championship. The team is headed by Coach Jerry Sloan, who has been a head coach of the Jazz for the past 19 years, and plays what a lot of people may consider old school basketball (since Jerry Sloan is an old school coach). The Jazz believe in running half-court sets while running the offense through their dominant big man inside, Carlos Boozer; and commit themselves deeply in playing grinding and physical defense. Despite being on alien ground, considering almost all Jazz players have never been this deep in the playoffs save Fisher and Okur, the Utah Jazz are going to be bringing their party and creating havoc in San Antonio starting at the tip of the very first game. San Antonio: be prepared.

The Favorite: San Antonio Spurs

The San Antonio Spurs are once again on familiar ground as they are closer than ever in winning their fourth NBA Championship in the past 9 years. The Spurs were forced to play away from their pace in the first 2 rounds of the playoffs as they encountered two teams who play with high-octane offense, but imposed their will and won both series. Despite possibly being tagged as 'villains' by a majority of the NBA fan community because of the much-discussed controversy regarding the Phoenix Suns which could have decided the series, the Spurs are here now and motivated than ever in bringing home another trophy for San Antonio. After stifling both opponents, both of which play running-games, earlier in the playoffs with their choking defense, San Antonio will now comfortably play their pace. The Spurs should expect the most physical treatment they will ever receive in this year's playoffs, as both teams will bump and grind under the basket at will without a letdown. San Antonio is led by superstar Tim Duncan, and his two rising-star sidekicks Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, along with head coach Greg Popovich who was with the Spurs through their 3 past title wins. Tim Duncan will look to show what being a dominant big man in the playoffs means as he will match up with Carlos Boozer in the post, while Tony Parker looks to meet a tougher defender in Deron Williams compared to Steve Nash. All roads in San Antonio lead towards the NBA Finals as experience and home-court advantage are on their side for the series.

The Match-up:

Oh man, we are in for a slug fest. Forget about the Phoenix Suns and the decreasing rate of years-to-live of each player, that series is done. Although expected to be low scoring, watch for elbows to fly and bodies to crash as the two most physical teams in the NBA playoffs meet head-to-head for the Western Conference Finals.

Overall, I think that the Spurs are just going to be too much for the Jazz. All arrows point towards the Spurs. The Spurs are FAR more experienced than the Jazz, although they have indeed shown toughness and can surely match up with the Spurs, until some point. The Spurs are much much deeper than the opponents that the Jazz faced in the past series. If Utah had an awful time trying to beat the Rockets and only squeaked out the victory because of the Rockets' offensive dependency on 2 superstars, they face an even greater challenge in the Spurs: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili for starters; along with Bruce Bowen, Brent Barry, and Michael Finley to add to the equation. Each team will have a horrible time trying to score against each other, but the Spurs will just have a little more fire power in the end.

What the Spurs can do: Screw the point guard match-up. Since the Jazz uses two point guards on the floor, I would advice them to move Bruce Bowen to defend Deron Williams and Tony Parker on Derek Fisher while Michael Finley manages Andrei Kirilenko. This will KILL the Jazz.

What the Jazz can do: The Jazz should NOT turn the ball over as much as they did in the Golden State series, they will not get a rebounding advantage against the Spurs as they did against the Warriors to offset the turnovers. They should remember to always run the ball through Carlos Boozer as the Spurs has yet to face a formidable post-up scorer this whole playoffs (Amare was not a post-up scorer). The pick-and-roll seems to be ineffective against Bruce Bowen, so I am assuming that Deron Williams will be shut down offensively in this series.

Final call: Unless the Utah Jazz can elevate their performance (I'm supposed to be doubting but they seem to always surprise us), the Spurs will win in 6.

TO be updated later: I will update on the Detroit-Cleveland series later on...

Other perspectives:
Western Conference Finals Preview: I'd rather drink toilet water
TrueHoop Stat Geeks All Pick San Antonio and Detroit
Getting Pumped For The Conference Finals

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