SAN ANTONIO (Texas): Tim Duncan and his San Antonio Spurs will try to get the jump on the New Jersey Nets before Jason Kidd can get his team back in gear after an 11-day layoff when the NBA finals tip off today.
The Spurs, led by Duncan the league’s MVP, are the NBA’s best team this season.
They go into the finals battle hardened and riding the momentum of a postseason run in which they saw off the Phoenix Suns, three-time defending champions Los Angeles Lakers and the feisty Dallas Mavericks in six games to capture the Western Conference crown.
They meet a New Jersey team that has been the hottest in the NBA postseason but may have cooled off considerably since rampaging through the playoffs winning 12 of 14 games, including the last 10 capped by a masterful four-game sweep of the Detroit Pistons to retain the Eastern Conference title 11 days ago.
The Nets have not tasted defeat since a 119-114 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in the opening round on April 26, their 10 consecutive playoff victories leaving them just two shy of the league record.
Certainly the layoff benefited Kidd, who injured his ankle in Game Four against the Pistons but is expected to be fully fit for the start of the best-of-seven series, which begins today in San Antonio.
“The layoff was good both physically and mentally, it gives you an opportunity to recharge for the big one,” said Kidd. “Sometimes when you’re on a roll you want to continue when you’re playing well.
“But we understand what it means. We just have to stay sharp mentally.”
After being brushed aside in four straight games by the Lakers in last year’s final, the Nets will not lack motivation and will be anxious to make amends for that performance.
While the Nets were simply happy to be in the championship last year, this season they have set the bar higher and are focused on one thing – bringing an NBA title to the Meadowlands for the first time.
“To be swept in any series is not a good feeling,” said Kidd. “Last year we felt we could compete but didn’t against the Lakers.
“Our goal now is to win a championship, that’s our mindset. Last year we were just happy to be there, this year we’ve still got work to do.”
The key match-up of the series will pit Duncan, twice the league MVP, against the Nets’ power forward Kenyon Martin, who has developed into one of the NBA’s premier defensive players but also makes a major contributions in attack.
The most intriguing head-to-head battle, however, will be between Kidd, widely recognised as the best point guard in the NBA, and his Spurs counterpart, Frenchman Tony Parker.
Kidd, the NBA’s best playmaker, is the engine that drives the Nets, the go-to-guy in almost every clutch situation.
Parker has been voted one of People magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People but he is not just a pretty face.
Parker has displayed nerveless veteran poise as the Spurs bid for a second NBA championship in five years. – Reuters