Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Can the Spurs Save the Playoffs?

By Aaron Miller

To many, the prospect of watching another NBA Finals that features the San Antonio Spurs and Detroit Pistons is, well, boring.

Unquestionably the two top teams of the last several seasons, their styles are well known, their stars familiar, and the mutual storylines milked for the smallest point of interest.

But that aside, I'd watch a closely-contested six-game series between those two powerhouses anytime, especially considering the current alternatives.

With either the Phoenix Suns or L.A. Clippers guaranteed a spot in the Western Conference Finals and the Dallas Mavericks holding a surprising lead over the defending champion Spurs, the long-standing tradition of defensive-minded teams rising to the top in later rounds is facing a serious threat of exception.

For years, I've been one of many to harp on clubs like the Mavs and Suns, ones that can run and score with anyone, but when faced with the task of actually keeping the ball out of the basket, you know, can't.

But this year it might not end that way. Assuming the Pistons continue to steamroll their way through the field in the Eastern Conference and Dallas can knock off San Anton, I think the emerging final would give new meaning to the word "boring."

Phoenix finished third from the bottom during the regular season defensively, allowing opponents to score almost 103 points a game. For their part, Dallas and the Clippers actually finished in the top 10 in the same category, but their team defense recently hardly draws comparisons to all-time great clamp-down clubs. And they're nowhere near last year's finalists, who finished second and third in team D this year.

Here's the point: Phoenix, L.A., and Dallas are fun teams to watch, but simply put, should any of them reach the finals and face the Pistons, we could be looking at one of the most lopsided contests since Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson vied over post-breakup media attention.

And that would be boring, because as much as the endless sideline shots of Eva Longoria can get tiresome come playoff time (I'm reaching, I know), it's considerably more interesting than watching Shaun Livingston or Devin Harris melt under the pressure of hard-nosed championship basketball they're not ready to play.

And thus, I'm torn. Yes, cheering for new blood is always appealing, and merely entertaining the thought of the Los Angeles Clippers reaching the NBA finals is enough to make milk spew from my nostrils. And yet when I see Quentin Ross on the court, somehow I have trouble believing.

Look, I just want a good NBA Finals and I don't think anyone left in the West can provide that against the Pistons other than the Spurs.

So let's settle. We'll just have to take a two-time MVP and one of the most dominant starting lineups in decades. We'll just have to deal with two of the best point guards in the league and the defensive player of the year (again). We'll just have to learn more about Eva Longoria, no matter how boring it is.

It'll just have to do.

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