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NBA FINALS

San Antonio Vs. Detroit

How they match up:

June 09, 2005|Mark Heisler

STARTERS

Tim Duncan makes the Spurs' lineup better, but the Pistons have great balance. The Chauncey Billups-Richard Hamilton backcourt is the NBA's most underrated; Tayshaun Prince is a smaller Andrei Kirilenko, Ben Wallace is the greatest 6-foot-7 defensive center the game has seen and Rasheed Wallace can do everything. The big hole is Ben Wallace's offense.

Edge: Spurs.

*

BENCH

The Spurs upgraded their bench with Brent Barry and rookie Beno Udrih, both starting-caliber players. Robert Horry, a difference-maker, is having a good postseason after two bad ones, making 43% of his three-point shots. Nevertheless, the best reserve in the series may be Detroit's Antonio McDyess and they get a lot from former Laker Lindsey Hunter, a tremendous on-ball defender.

Edge: Even.

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OFFENSE

The Spurs used to be defense-oriented with just enough firepower, but they're deeper and more versatile now. When they were obliged to run with the Suns in the Western finals, they averaged 108 points and shot 48%. The Pistons have to make jump shots, but none of them is Reggie Miller and they're prone to droughts. The X-factor is Rasheed Wallace, a good low-post player who doesn't like to spend a lot of time down there.

Edge: Spurs.

*

DEFENSE

The Spurs were the league's No. 1 defensive team, and the Pistons were No. 2. Gregg Popovich is a Larry Brown protege, their defenses are similar and this will be an old-fashioned, rock-ribbed series. Neither team will double-team. The Pistons will play Duncan one-on-one, just as they played Shaquille O'Neal this season and last. The Pistons will pressure the ball more, the Spurs will sag more. Nobody will score a lot of points.

Edge: Even.

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KEY MATCHUPS

Duncan vs. Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace, et al.: Duncan's post-up game is the big difference between these teams, so if he goes wild, the Pistons are in trouble.

Edge: Spurs.

Manu Ginobili vs. Hamilton: Ginobili is spectacular and takes over when Duncan struggles, but if Hamilton can't play him, Prince will take over. When the Pistons have the ball, Ginobili will have to follow Hamilton through all of those screens.

Edge: Even.

Billups vs. Tony Parker: Both are clutch players. Parker's outside shot is erratic and he runs hot and cold, but he's one of the game's fastest players and it's hard to keep him from going to the basket. Billups is bigger, stronger, a better shooter and his team's unquestioned leader.

Edge: Billups.

*

COACHING

For all the turmoil surrounding him, and there has never been more than now, Brown is an amazing coach and he has been here before. This is one of his best-coached teams ever, so tough-minded it can even ignore the circus going on around him. Popovich, a former Brown assistant and the best man at Brown's wedding, has been here too, having won two titles. He's like Brown without the fireworks.

Edge: Even.

*

PREDICTION

Unlike the Heat, the Spurs are rested and injury-free. Unlike the last series, the Pistons won't get wide-open looks every time they run a high pick-and-roll. Unlike O'Neal, Duncan is in his prime, in shape and won't fade late in games. However, if the Pistons get one of the first two, these could be the best Finals in years.

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-- Mark Heisler

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