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Strength of West should lift Spurs to NBA title

Jun 3, 2003 6:32 AM

After a two-week hiatus, the New Jersey Nets begin their second straight quest for the NBA Championship, opposing the top seeded Spurs in a best 4-of-7 series beginning Wednesday night in San Antonio.

The Spurs needed six games to defeat Dallas in the Western Conference final. New Jersey rides a 10-game winning streak following series sweeps of both Boston and Detroit in the East.

San Antonio opened a solid 4-1 favorite to extend Western Conference dominance in the title series to five in a row. But New Jersey has its fair share of supporters, with the early money flowing heavily on the East champs. At press time the Spurs were down to —300 in some Las Vegas sports books.

The Nets have won three of the last four matchups with the Spurs over the past two seasons. New Jersey swept in 2001-02, winning by two and six points. Each team won once on its home court during the regular season. New Jersey won by 9 in mid November, the Spurs won by 14 in early March. Both games went easily UNDER the posted total by 10 and 12 points respectively.

It might be best to use a horse racing analogy in assessing the class of competition faced. San Antonio’s ride through the West, though not as dominating as New Jersey’s in the East, came against superior teams.

Still there are some disturbing traits shown by the Spurs that suggest New Jersey has more than a long shot chance. During the playoffs, the Spurs have made a habit of surrendering fourth-quarter double-digit leads. New Jersey has been able to play from behind and Jason Kidd has been sensational throughout the playoffs.

Kidd has a clear edge at his position over Parker and will be the reason why New Jersey will be competitive in this series.

New Jersey has the more recent Finals experience, though being swept by the Lakers last season. But the Nets had not been to the playoffs in four prior seasons. In his second season, Coach Byron Scott did a tremendous job of bringing the Nets to the NBA Final. Scott is considered to have an edge over the more experienced Gregg Popovich, even though Pop has led the Spurs to six straight playoff appearances, three straight Division titles and one NBA Championship.

In the final analysis San Antonio is just better, owning one title and that nucleus of Duncan and Robinson.

New Jersey should win a couple of games but ultimately San Antonio will prevail, most likely in six. Expect a split in the first two games, followed by the Spurs taking two of three in New Jersey. San Antonio then wraps up the title at home in Game 6. Unlike the other seven-game playoffs series, the NBA Finals are played in a 2-3-2 format with New Jersey hosting Games 3-5, if a fifth is necessary.

In looking to play the individual games, New Jersey is worth a bet in Game 1 at a line of +6 or 6½. Should the Nets lose Game 1, play them as a dog in Game 2.

If the Nets pull the upset in Game 1, then it might be best to pass on Game 2. San Antonio should be the play in Game 3, regardless of whether they are up 2-0 are tied 1-1. However, should New Jersey be ahead 2-0, the Nets would be our bet in Game 3.

The UNDER is preferred throughout the series at totals of 185 or higher. At 187 in Game One, the UNDER will be playable. It’s reasonable not to expect much of an adjustment for Game 2.