- The Washington Times - Monday, January 24, 2005

Observations on the best game of the season, the San Antonio Spurs’ 128-123 overtime win over the Phoenix Suns on Friday night:

• The Spurs will win the NBA title.

But not because of the standard, party-line reason: their commanding defense. The Spurs are the best team in the league because they can win with any style of play.

They have defeated the Suns twice, scoring 115 and 128 points, and they have defeated the Pistons 80-77.

San Antonio’s constants are franchise player Tim Duncan and point guard Tony Parker. But it can complement that duo with Rasho Nesterovic, Bruce Bowen and Malik Rose in a physical, halfcourt game. Or the Spurs can play Manu Ginobili, Brent Barry and Devin Brown in an up-tempo game.

The Spurs are 0-2 against the Seattle SuperSonics, who used their European, drive-and-dish offense to score 113 and 102 points. Ginobili and Barry didn’t get big minutes in those up-and-down games. The two teams play again Monday in Seattle.

• Ginobili, the star of Friday’s game at Phoenix with a career-high 48 points, isn’t just a good player. He’s great.

After all, he’s the best player on the best team in the world. Not the Spurs, but gold medal-winning Argentina.

Ginobili’s greatness is muted because he is a transition player on a mostly halfcourt team, and he plays just 29.6 minutes a game.

If Ginobili played 36 minutes a game, he would average 19.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.13 steals — which would make him Scottie Pippen or Sidney Moncrief.

If Ginobili played for the Suns, who offered him a contract during the summer, in a style that better suited him, he might be their best player.

• The Suns, who ended a six-game losing streak Sunday, are still very good, probably the second-best team in the league.

It is fashionable to say the Suns won’t make a dent in the playoffs because they are gimmicky, don’t play defense or don’t have depth or whatever.

Not buying it.

The Suns lost four of those games because Steve Nash, their most important player, was hurt. No team is going on any winning streaks without its best player, unless it’s the Kings without Chris Webber.

The Suns’ margin of victory, the best measure of dominance, is still +8.4 per game. That’s second only to the Spurs’ +10.9.

The Suns just can’t solve the Spurs right now. There is no shame in that. They have plenty of company.

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