Preview & Chat: The NBA Finals

Kurt —  June 6, 2007

Hey, we did these for 87 Laker games, why not one for the Finals…

Note to Laker management/fans/players/anyone who will listen. The two teams in the NBA Finals are two of the top four defensive teams in the league. This is not a coincidence.

One-Sided? Without looking at a statistic or a match up, my initial gut reaction was the Spurs would destroy the Cavs. I felt pretty strongly about it. The last time my initial gut reaction was that strong was 2004 — those starless Pistons were no match for the Lakers and their four Hall of Famers. For some reason, I can’t remember how that turned out.

Defense counts. The question I found hardest to answer when trying to break down this series: How much better was the West than the East?

I wondered because so far in the playoffs, Cleveland has put up the best defensive numbers of any team — giving up 95.5 points per 100 possessions, even holding the Pistons to 99.9 (for comparison the Spurs are at 101.6 for the playoffs, but remember they played the Suns). Cleveland playing good defense shouldn’t be a shock — in the regular season they were fourth best in the NBA.

The question I had is: Did Cleveland step it up or is it the level of competition? In the first round Cleveland played an injury-riddled Washington team that even Gatinho could have gotten playing time on. The next round was the good Nets, followed by the good but erratic Pistons.

Maybe the competition has helped the playoff numbers but anyway you slice it Cleveland is a good defensive squad. And teams that play good defense keep games close and always have a chance at the end (especially when you have a guy like LeBron).

But will they score enough? Here’s one thing I thought while watching the Cleveland/Detroit series — the Spurs will do a better job defending the Cavs than Detroit did.

It’s not just Bowen on LeBron, although that would be fun to watch. It’s the overall package. Henry Abbott at True Hoop tried to rain on this parade a little, but I don’t two games (the most recent Jan. 2) carry a ton of weight. That said he did give us some clues — the Cavs posted up LeBron on Bowen a lot during those two meetings and they should do that again, LeBron is far too strong for him in the post and will demand a quick double team, getting teammates open.

And that was a big key for Cleveland against Detroit — the other guys started to hit shots around LeBron. Gibson got the gold star but others started to step up as well. Granted, there was the amazing game five run where LeBron took over, but what made game six a blowout is that the Cavs role players hit their shots.

The challenge for Cleveland will be doing the same thing with a hand in their face — the Spurs defensive rotations in the playoffs have been spectacular. Those Cavs supporting members will not get clean looks. They are going to have to hit shots under pressure.

A typical play. If you have watched much of Cleveland in the playoffs, you know play #1 is to get LeBron the ball and run him off a screen from Ilgauskas (or another big). That is also play #2 and #3. Cavs coach Mike Brown has taken a lot of heat for this, but the basic premise is solid — get the ball in the hands of your best playmaker and scorer, let him make the decisions.

Bowen will be on LeBron, obviously, but I expect the Spurs will put Oberto on Ilgauskas, that leaves Duncan left to freelance a little off Gooden and rotate on to James if he drives the lane. Oberto is a physical, tough player, he will hedge out on James and not just give him a lane to the basket. Duncan’s long arms (along with the fact the rest of the Spurs like to collapse on penetraters) will make LeBron less efficient — James will get a spectacular dunk or two, but he’s going to have a lot more contested shots. Good interior defense forces LeBron to go to his Achilles heal, the mid-range jumper.

As I said before, what will be key for the Cavs is when James makes his often-special passes when the defense collapses the Cavs are to win the role players must step up. With a hand in their face.

Bet the under.
Two teams that like to play at a slow pace and play good defense, they are not going to reach the number (180) for game one. By game two the casinos will have adjusted.

Other Good Previews. Kevin Pelton is a hero of mine. David Thorpe is a hero of mine. For those of you who think reading is too much work, there is a podcast from The Basketball Jones. The always brilliant Free Darko is talking about both teams. (More of these will go up as I see them in the next couple of days.)

Heck with the finals, give me draft/trade info. Friend of the site Nate Jones has done a great interview with Cal State Fullerton stud Bobby Brown, a likely early second round pick. I saw him a few times the last couple years in person and like his game.

Oh, and neither Kobe nor JO will be traded today, so feel free to relax.

One thing to watch. Two powerful teams on the boards here, going to be some great battles inside. If one team can get a decisive edge it will be a big boost.

Finals prediction. I think it comes down to this — the Spurs have more and better offensive weapons. They are going to get their points — not a ton, but enough. And more consistently. I think the Cavs can stretch this out six games for two reasons: 1) LeBron James at the end of close games; 2) the rather stupid 2-3-2 format.

So give me the Spurs in six.