View Full Version : 5/19 ESPN Insider (The conference finals matchups)

05-19-2003, 10:55 AM
Pistons, Spurs must control tempo
By Greg Anthony
Special to ESPN Insider
Monday, May 19
Updated: May 19
11:16 AM ET

Well, the final four are finally here, and the match-ups followed the script in terms of best records, with the top two teams in each conference squaring off. So let's take a look at what each team needs to do in order to advance and play in the NBA Finals.

New Jersey vs. Detroit
This should be a great series, featuring young, disciplined teams and coaches and superstars in Jason Kidd and Ben Wallace who impact the game more than anyone else in the league without having to be big scorers.

The Nets feature their own version of the big three with Richard Jefferson, Kenyon Martin and Kidd. Their strengths are first on the defensive end, where they are arguably the best in the league (unless you live in Detroit). Their ability to contain penetration and contest shots is under-appreciated, but it's what they do after they make the stop that frightens their opponents. The Nets are quite simply the very best at turning misses by their opponents into baskets on the other end. It all starts with Kidd, who when his career is over may be the best to ever run a fastbreak from end to end (even more so than my idol, Magic Johnson & but lets give that a few more years), especially after turnovers and missed shots. Add in three guys in K-Mart, Richard Jefferson, and Kerry Kittles who really know how to finish, and you better take good shots and have a good transition defense to have a chance.

Weaknesses? There aren't many, but this team can be defended in the halfcourt, because as great as their transition is they can be contained when forced to pull the ball back out and set up their offense. While K-Mart, J. Kidd and Jefferson have improved in their ability to create for themselves, they are not as consistent at it as they will ultimately become. So job no. 1 is to limit their transition and force them to beat you in the halfcourt. I think if you keep their fast break points under 14 per game, you have a great chance to beat them, and the way you do that is by controlling tempo and playing great transition defense (which Detroit does).

Detroit, like Boston, will take a lot of 3s, but they're a better perimeter shooting team and they play great defense. Detroit has really made the most of its ability, and Rick Carlisle and his staff have done a great job of utilizing the entire roster. Their defense is the best in the league (unless you live in New Jersey), but it doesn't lead to as much in transition as you would like, so they can struggle offensively. But they can also be very explosive (especially at home).

The health of Chauncey Billups is still a concern, even more so because of Kidd, who defends well. But the biggest thing going for Detroit is their bench and Ben Wallace. The bench led the league in scoring, and that didn't really include Tayshaun Prince (39 DNPs during the regular season). They can create a lot of match-up problems for you, and unlike Jersey they can (and have) won without their starting point guard.

What else can you say about Big Ben that hasn't been said? But the one concern he and the Pistons must have is that his ability to block shots could very well work against Detroit in what should be a long difficult series. With J. Kidd, when you commit to the block, nobody is better at delivering to open players, and nobody finishes as well as K- Mart. Also, Detroit must rebound by committee better in this series. They have to help Mr. Wallace, because New Jersey is much more athletic and will pound the offensive glass.

This series is a toss up, and if you love great defense it will be a treat.

Dallaz vs. San Antonio
There are so many intriguing matchups in this series: Dirk Nowitzki vs. Tim Duncan; Steve Nash vs. Tony Parker; Michael Finley vs. Stephen Jackson. But the most interesting one will be Nick Van Exel vs. either Bruce Bowen, Manu Ginobili or whoever else the Spurs throw at him.

A big key for the young and talented Spurs will be whether or not they get caught up in trying to play the Mavericks' style and get away from their strengths of playing inside out with Duncan. That's easier said than done.

Both teams have as much confidence as you could have. San Antonio got that monkey off its back, and Dallas has won two Game 7s and have gotten further than anyone expected even though they won 60 games. (Incidentally, both of Dallas' Game 7 wins were at home. If there is a Game 7 in this series, it will be in Texas, but not in Dallas.)

This series will be better than most are predicting, because Dallas is just so good offensively. Conversely, they are so bad defensively that it might work to their advantage. Remember, the Mavericks know who they are, and sometimes the Spurs forget who they are. It's part of being young.

I think the one stat you want to keep an eye on is turnovers. As much as Dallas likes to get up and down the floor, they led the league in fewest turnovers, and San Antonio has a propensity to turn it over. We all know of the Spurs' dominance on the glass, but turnovers will negate that.

Let's get ready to rumble.

05-19-2003, 11:01 AM
I just don't buy into the "Mavs are horrific defensively" mantra that pervades everything you read. I thought the Mavs played decent (albeit not great) defense over the duration of the playoffs. I think the Mavs will surprise the Spurs a little.

05-19-2003, 11:04 AM
I agree Doc. Obviously, our defense could use some improvement, but I don't think we're as bad as everyone writes about.

Our problem is consistency.