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Spurs vs. Nuggets -- A Playoff Preview

   by Al McMordie - 04/21/2005

San Antonio Spurs vs. Denver Nuggets

In the most intriguing first-round match-up, the Favorite to win this year's NBA Title (San Antonio) takes on the Hottest team (Denver).

Of course, the players will determine the outcome, but one of the storylines is the coaches. Denver hired an ex-Spur, George Karl, to run the Nuggets after former coach Jeff Bzdelik lost control, while San Antonio's Gregg Popovich ironically got his start just outside Denver at the Air Force Academy.

Karl, of course, has a lot of talent in Denver: Kenyon Martin was a #1 pick, Marcus Camby a #2 pick, Carmelo Anthony a #3 pick, Andre Miller a #7 pick and Nene Hilario a #8 pick. But these players didn't gel into a formidable team until Karl brought his intensity and leadership. By the way, another ex-Spur, Doug Moe, also roams the sidelines with Karl.

Even though Denver has been tagged as The Team Nobody Wants to Play, that moniker really deserves to be worn by the Spurs. After all, it was San Antonio who was outscoring foes by an average of 10 points per game before All-Star Tim Duncan went down with a sprained ankle in March. How good is that scoring margin? Good enough to rank among the Top 5 teams in NBA history had the Spurs been able to maintain that margin for the remainder of the season. But the Spurs' injuries (center Rasho Nesterovic and guard Devin Brown will miss some or all of this series) have taken away some of San Antonio's momentum, so Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker will have to carry the load on offense, while newly-acquired Nazr Mohammed and Glenn Robinson will have to fill in the gaps caused by Nesterovic and Brown's absence. And Mohammed has played well of late, averaging 9.5 ppg, 11.7 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks since Nesterovic was injured.

The Nuggets are 25-4 over their last 29 games; they were 19-1 at home after Karl was hired; and were a perfect 2-0 vs. San Antonio. But the Spurs didn't have Duncan for either of those games, and didn't have Ginobili for one of them. And the Spurs were a franchise-best 38-3 at home this year, which led Karl to proclaim all the pressure was on San Antonio and that Denver could "live with losing in the first round." Does Karl really believe that, or is it part of his master plan to psyche out the Spurs?

Perhaps the key to the series will be the play of Nuggets' center Marcus Camby, who averaged 11.5 ppg, 10.8 rebounds and 3.8 blocks vs. the Spurs this year. Karl needs Camby to play great defense against Duncan and Mohammed, or the Nuggets can hit the golf course. On the Spurs' defensive front, the key, as always will be stopper Bruce Bowen, who will likely get the assignment of Anthony. In the past, Anthony has been stymied by Bowen, but the Denver superstar has let it be known that he will bring his 'A' game to the playoffs.

San Antonio has been installed as a 6-1 favorite to win the series, and is a 7.5-point favorite in Game 1 on Sunday night. The biggest upset ever in the Playoffs was in 1994 when Karl's #1-seeded Sonics lost to Dikembe Mutombo and the #8-seeded Nuggets. Perhaps this time, Karl will get redemption by being on the other side of a major upset? Stay tuned!

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