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The Finals

New Jersey Nets (49-33) vs. San Antonio Spurs (60-22)

June 04, 2003|Mark Heisler

Season series: Tied, 1-1

All-time series: Spurs, 44-18

Series preview:

The most important player in this series is not Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Jason Kidd or Kenyon Martin but the youngest man in it, just-turned-21Tony Parker.

In a sign of just how young these Spurs are, when defenses gang up on Duncan, as they do more and more, the player they all look to is Parker, the second-year point guard from Paris.

As befits someone so young and inexperienced, Parker sometimes busts big-time, as in the first two games of the first-round series against Phoenix, when he was not only overmatched by Stephon Marbury on defense, but gagged on offense, shooting three of 20 and scoring nine points. However, Parker's best attribute is not his speed but his courage. He came back against the Suns, averaging 20 points the rest of the way. He hit the Lakers for 21 and 27 in Games 5 and 6 that decided their series and averaged 23 in the first four against Dallas, as the Spurs went up, 3-1.

The Nets could win if Parker fell apart, but otherwise they'll have to play far above themselves. Against the Spurs, they could get cricks in their necks, just looking up. Martin, averaging 21 points this postseason, has been using his quickness around the hoop but hasn't been dealing with anyone like 7-foot-1 David Robinson and 6-11 Tim Duncan.

Key injuries: NJ: C Dikembe Mutombo (wrist); SAN: None.

Fast facts:

This marks the first NBA Finals featuring two former ABA teams. The Nets' 10-game winning streak ranks as the fourth-longest single-season winning streak in playoff history. Duncan, Robinson, Malik Rose and Steve Kerr were all members of the Spurs' 1999 championship squad.

MATCHUPS

*--* NJ SAN Playoff record 12-2 12-6 Points per game 98.6 97.1 Shooting % 449 444 Total rebounds 46.1 45.4 Three point % 383 359 Free throw % 754 714 Assists 23.3 21.6 Steals 7.3 7.7 Blocks 3.4 5.9

*--*

Note: statistics are for playoff games only.

Prediction: The West rides again. Spurs, 4-2.

-- Mark Heisler

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