By Sam Scorup
After putting together a run through the Eastern Conference Playoffs with a 12-4 record and the elimination of the savvy, experienced Detroit Pistons, the Cleveland Cavaliers couldn”t be blamed for living in a euphoric, dreamlike state.
They just better wake up soon, because Cleveland may be in for its worst nightmare.
Cavs apologists and the occasional NBA pundit may point to Cleveland”s 2-0 head-to-head edge against the San Antonio Spurs in the regular season as a sign of strength for the Cavs, however I prefer analyses with larger sample sizes.
The Spurs have matched the Cavs” 12-4 postseason record, however they have done it against much stiffer competition. The Cavs swept the Washington Wizards, a team playing without its two injured All-Stars, Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler. Then they took out the New Jersey Nets, yet another team that may not have even qualified for the playoffs if they were in the Western Conference.
San Antonio, on the other hand, eliminated a Denver team that finished the regular season on a 9-1 tear, followed by a Game 1 win on the Spurs” home floor. Then the Silver and Black got serious and won four straight, including both road games.
Subsequent Spurs victims, Phoenix and Utah, were at least as difficult of opponents as Cleveland will be. The Suns had the second-best record in the NBA this season, winning more than 60 games. The Jazz were the Northwest Division champions and were among the top teams in the league for most of the season. Just like the Cavs, these teams beat the Spurs in the regular season. And just like those teams, the Cavs will bow out against the Spurs in the postseason.
The media will hype this NBA Finals as LeBron James coming out party. I hate to be a party pooper, but the young, A+ superstar will have to take his lumps in his first Finals exam.
But enough talk about being schooled. Where was I? Oh yeah, sample sizes. The teams” playoff records. The total body of work.
The total body of work during this season says the Spurs had the third-best record in the NBA and the best scoring margin at +8.4 points per game. The Cavs were seventh in both categories.
The Spurs defense allowed the fewest points in the NBA this season, while the Cavs ranked a solid fifth. San Antonio”s field goal percentage defense is fourth best while Cleveland”s is eighth. More importantly, the Spurs defend the 3-point line as well as any team, meaning rookie Daniel Gibson will have no repeat of his random performances of 21 and 31 points against Detroit, including 5-for-5 on 3-pointers in one game.
While the average fan finds nothing too exciting about the Spurs” offense, the fact remains they have three All-Star caliber players in Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, all of whom can grab a game by the neck and impose his will during a given stretch. Name one player on the Cavs outside of LeBron who can do the same (cue the Jeopardy! theme song). And while I”m throwing out stats, how about this one: The Spurs offense, which outscored the Cavs” this season, was third in the Association in both field goal percentage and 3-point percentage, while the Cavs ranked 24th and 18th, respectively.
San Antonio”s experience will also give them the edge in pressure situations. They have been there and they have done that. Plus, the Cavs have the worst free throw percentage of any team not featuring Shaquille O”Neal. And we all know how late-game free throws can impact a game.
Let”s summarize: better offense, better defense, more experience and a more well-rounded roster.
It can only mean one thing: the Spurs” fourth title in the Tim Duncan era.
Spurs in five.