NBA Playoff Preview - San Antonio vs. Utah

NBA Playoff Preview - San Antonio vs. Utah

NBA Playoff Preview - San Antonio vs. Utah
May 19th, 2007

(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. They 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 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

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Spurs vs. Jazz: How the West is won
May 19, 2007

SAN ANTONIO (AP) -After the drama both on and off the court that the Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs faced during the Western Conference semifinals, the teams are looking forward to just playing the game.

And getting reacquainted in the postseason. The teams last met in the playoffs in 1998, when the Jazz eliminated San Antonio on their way to the NBA finals, where they lost to Chicago.

``We are two teams that try to do the same thing, just put the ball in, play from the inside out, when we have the opportunity we are going to run,'' Spurs star Manu Ginobili said. ``It's going to be fun with a lot of good plays and tough possessions, hard to score. So, we'll see what happens.''

Game 1 of the best-of-seven series to decide the West is Sunday in San Antonio.

``They don't make any mistakes,'' Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. ``They're terrific. They do a great job. Their coach does a great job with them. They've got everything you want.''

The 1998 playoffs were the last time the Jazz made it to the conference finals. The Spurs won the conference finals in 1999, 2003 and 2005 and went on to win the championship all three times. In 2001 they made it to the conference finals, but lost to the Los Angeles Lakers.

The teams split the season series 2-2, with each team winning its two home games. The Jazz have lost their last 16 games in San Antonio, dating to 1999.

``We try to change history. We go down there with the mind-set that what happened before is behind us,'' Utah's Carlos Boozer said. ``We're obviously a different team than a lot of those losses. ... We're looking forward to making some new history, hopefully.''

The Jazz won their second-round series with the Golden State Warriors in five games, while the Spurs took six games to eliminate the Phoenix Suns.

The Spurs' series with the Suns was marked by rough play that resulted in one bloodied and bruised eye for Ginobili and six stitches to close a gash across the nose for the Suns' Steve Nash. Nash also went tumbling into the scorer's table at the end of Game 4 after a flagrant foul from Robert Horry. The incident resulted in a two-game suspension for Horry and a one-game suspension for the Suns' Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw for leaving the bench during the minor scuffle.

Hostile words also were exchanged as Stoudemire early on called the Spurs a ``dirty team'' and targeted Bruce Bowen and Ginobili in particular.

For the Jazz, there were family concerns off the court that made news during their series with the Warriors. Derek Fisher arrived late during Utah's Game 2 overtime win after flying in from a New York hospital, where he was present for his 10-month-old daughter's cancer treatment.

Fisher said his daughter, Tatum, who was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a cancerous tumor in her left eye, is doing well now and improves with each day.

``To be honest, I really haven't been able to enjoy it much,'' Fisher said Saturday of Utah's playoff run. ``Right now, we're dealing with a lot personally so it's kept me in a really kind of cautiously optimistic state.''

The Jazz last played Tuesday, while the Spurs didn't eliminate Phoenix until Friday night, giving them just one full day of recovery time before Sunday afternoon's matchup.

``We understand we're fortunate to be in this position,'' Bowen said Saturday. ``I think a lot of people would rather take this position than complain about fatigue at this point.''

Bowen said rebounding will be a key for the Spurs.

``We've had some games against them where we didn't rebound particularly well and because of that they got a late 3 and we don't win the game,'' said Bowen, who was second for Defensive Player of the Year behind Denver's Marcus Camby. ``So it's very important for us to make sure we get in there and try to mix it up with those big bodies.''

The Jazz have averaged 46.5 rebounds during the playoffs, eight more than their opponents, while the Spurs have averaged 41 rebounds a game, with their opponents grabbing 41.5 boards per game.

``We just hope our team defense can be good enough,'' Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. ``It's not an individual thing with Utah. The team has to be able to guard.''

The Jazz will have to work to contain Tim Duncan, who was a consistent offensive and defensive force for San Antonio during the series with Phoenix. Duncan has averaged almost 24 points, more than 12 rebounds and better than 3 1/2 blocks during the playoffs.

``He's so skilled. ... He has every move on the block in the post. He's probably the best post player we have in the game,'' Boozer said. ``As a competitor you want challenges. And what better challenge in basketball than for a power forward to go up against Tim Duncan.''

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Capsule previews of the NBA's conference finals
May 19, 2007

A look at the NBA conference finals, which start Sunday (with regular-season record, playoff mark in parentheses):

Season series: Tied, 2-2, with the Spurs extending their home winning streak against Utah to 16 games by winning both meetings in San Antonio. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker each averaged 21.5 points, with Duncan adding 11.3 rebounds per game. The Jazz held Manu Ginobili to 25 percent shooting. The Jazz limited the Spurs to 85.5 points per game in their two victories, but San Antonio averaged 104 at home.

Storyline: With the top two winners in the West gone, the longtime conference powers meet for a spot in the NBA finals. The Spurs are looking to reach the finals for the third time in five years, while the Jazz haven't been this far since 1998. Utah has won 11 of the 15 playoff series between the teams.

Key Matchup I: Duncan vs. Carlos Boozer. Duncan remains as good as it gets at power forward, but Boozer isn't far behind. However, Boozer managed only 16.7 points on 49 percent shooting in three games against San Antonio this season, well below the regular-season numbers that landed him on the All-Star team.

Key Matchup II: Bruce Bowen vs. Andrei Kirilenko. Bowen was at his best against Phoenix in the second round, annoying the Suns with his in-your-face defense and hitting some timely 3-pointers when left open. If the confused-looking Kirilenko from the first round shows up in this series, Utah is in trouble. But if he plays the way he did against Golden State, when he scored in double figures in every game while playing his terrific all-around defense, the Jazz will be in much better shape. Bad news for Utah fans: He averaged only 8.8 points and shot under 30 percent against the Spurs this season.

X-Factor: Derek Fisher. His return to the team after attending to his daughter's serious illness was an inspiration to the Jazz, and he added some timely 3-pointers and strong defense on Baron Davis. He'll probably be asked to slow Parker, and Spurs fans don't need to be reminded that he's a clutch playoff performer: His game-winning jumper for the Lakers in Game 5 of the 2004 West semifinals at San Antonio was perhaps the decisive blow in the Spurs' hopes to repeat that season.

Prediction: Spurs in 6.

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