- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Spurs will defeat the Cavaliers in five games, six tops, because the Spurs have the championship pedigree, the under-appreciated Tim Duncan and big-game performers Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.

No reasonable case can be made that favors the Cavaliers, the one-man band of LeBron James and a sprinkle of this and that.

And please disregard the Cavaliers’ two victories over the Spurs in the regular season. If the regular season were a reliable predictor of the postseason, we would be getting ready to watch the Mavericks and Pistons.

The most essential player after James in the Eastern Conference finals was arguably Daniel Gibson, the munchkin rookie who helped shoot the Cavaliers past the Pistons in Games 4 and 6.

Other than Gibson in two games, it was James and anyone’s guess.

That tenuous proposition turned out to be enough in the egalitarian East.

It is doubtful the Cavaliers would be playing in their first NBA Finals if they were consigned to the Western Conference, the NBA’s varsity circuit.

There, the Cavaliers would have been among the playoff also-rans, if that, considering the relative quality of the eighth-seeded Warriors.

Yet this is one series, and as we learned in the Heat-Mavericks meeting last June, the NBA’s grand stage can turn otherwise leading players into rubbery-legged embarrassments.

But that is where the experience element of the Spurs becomes persuasive. The organization is seeking its fourth championship in nine seasons. The Spurs are old hands at this stuff, unfazed by the stage, the media crush and the inevitable twists and turns of a series.

You saw how the Spurs responded after their 26-point beating by the Jazz in Game 3 of the conference finals.

The Spurs dismissed it as an aberration and defeated the Jazz in Game 4 in Salt Lake City, which ended the pretense of it possibly becoming a competitive series.

The Spurs thrive because of their inside-out ball movement, team defense and impervious nature.

Could you imagine anyone on the Spurs having a Rasheed Wallace-like meltdown? Or sniping at teammates and ignoring coaches, as Wallace did in the Cavaliers-Pistons series?

That is not the way of the Spurs, perceived as almost too clinical.

This perception is stoked in part by the unassuming Duncan, who is neither the Chosen One nor the King, just Tim.

Duncan does not scowl or beat on his chest or implore a crowd to admire whatever wondrous thing he just has accomplished on the floor.

He just beats you in a fundamentally efficient manner and then converses in an offhanded way after the game.

He can do without the headlines, the marketing contrivances and all the other trappings of stardom.

The Spurs are a team in the purest sense because of Duncan, all the more noteworthy in a league that sells the individual instead of the team.

It is no secret the NBA honchos are relieved because of the ascent of James.

Another Spurs-Pistons matchup — the Spurs won in seven games in 2005 — would have horrified ratings-obsessed television executives.

Beyond James, though, the Cavaliers are a mishmash of ordinary parts that collide over which playing style maximizes the personnel.

James and Larry Hughes are best in a free-wheeling, open-court attack, while Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Drew Gooden are most functional in halfcourt sets.

Gibson, Sasha Pavlovic and Donyell Marshall are mostly spot-up shooters, Anderson Varejao all hair and elbows, Eric Snow the token senior citizen and Damon Jones the token mouth.

Unless James can piece together a series of performances reminiscent of his Game 5 gem against the Pistons, the Spurs are too balanced, smart and flexible to be challenged.

The Spurs can win by playing at a snail’s pace or in a shoot-out.

If Bruce Bowen, Brent Barry and Robert Horry are hitting 3-pointers, the Spurs become almost impossible to defend.

The East has been sending mostly forgettable teams to the NBA Finals since the eighth-seeded Knicks in 1999.

The Cavaliers, James notwithstanding, are hardly the exception.

That could be the other circumstance, besides James, that is in their favor.

The burden of expectations is on the Spurs.

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