By Brian Winters (as told to Dave McMenamin)
With two of the last four NBA titles on their shelf, the Spurs can almost be considered a dynasty. While the Nuggets, with two of the top eight scorers this season on their roster, can certainly be considered a potential upset team. We called on former NBA coach Brian Winters to break down the series and make a prediction.
WHAT TO EXPECT: SPURS
San Antonio is obviously a veteran team that is well coached by Pop. They’ve been together a long time, particularly Ginobili, Parker, Duncan and Horry. They have a lot more playoff experience. They’ve been there before, won championships. They have the best points differential in the league and they’re just a veteran team that has been a top team for a long time. They have a little more playoff experience, a little more chemistry, better defensively … they’re just a terrific team.
They want the tempo probably to be slower, more controlled so they can play off Duncan in the low post. They’ll run when they can with Ginobili and Parker slashing to the rim, but basically their goal is to play off Duncan in the post, control tempo and defend. A lower scoring game probably favors them.
WHAT TO EXPECT: NUGGETS
Denver on the other hand, they want to get some easy baskets. They want to try to run. Obviously, Iverson and Carmelo are their main scorers, great scorers, who played very well down the stretch both of them and their team played very well down the stretch. They won a bunch of games in a row at the end. George likes to get easy baskets. Not as good defensively as San Antonio, especially out on the perimeter. They can get beat off the perimeter, but they do have Camby to erase some shots at the rim which is very helpful for them.
Nene has played very well at the end here. It looks like he’s finally gotten himself in shape after getting over his knee injury. He and Camby are going to have to be the main guys to try and play Duncan and control Duncan and just play well against him. Make him work on defense and try to contain him offensively.
Ginobili is such an X-Factor. He comes off the bench and plays with so much energy. Denver has to be worried about Ginobili just having huge games offensively. I’m not sure who they have that can guard him. Is Carmelo going to have to guard Ginobili? Or J.R. Smith or one of those guys and, can they guard him? He’s such a factor slashing and scoring. Ginobili off their bench is huge for San Antonio.
DENVER: BETTER THAN A SIX SEED?
In the West they’re probably a six seed just because Houston and Utah are so good, and Dallas is so good, and Phoenix is so good, and San Antonio is so good. There are five top teams that have played very well all year. Obviously, Denver, if they had made the Iverson trade earlier and had him for the whole season, maybe they could have got in the top five, but in the West, they’re probably where they should be. Those other teams are good.
COACHING PHILOSOPHY: GREGG POPOVICH
If offensively he tries to control tempo and use clock to score, that slows the possessions down for Denver. I think he will do that. He’ll have Bowen on Carmelo an awful lot, although he may use Bowen on Iverson too if he’s having a great game. He has the ability to play a bigger player on Iverson so I think he’s going to try that. He has to slow one or both of those guys down. If both of those score 30 a night, that’s 60 points they’re getting and Pop probably wants the game in the low 90s and doesn’t want it to get over 100.
COACHING PHILOSOPHY: GEORGE KARL
George is an experienced coach, he’s won a lot of playoff games himself, but their team was kind of a team in the making because of the trade they made halfway through the year. I think chemistry wise they struggled for a while. I think a big key for them also is Kleiza and Smith have to make some weak-side J’s, perimeter J’s, to keep the defense honest off Melo and Iverson. They’re going to have to make some shots from the perimeter.
If the Nuggets are going to have any chance at all they’re going to have to win one of those first two games in San Antonio. If they go 0-2 and back to Denver, it sort of forces them to have to win both games there. I think it’s probably a six-game series. I think Denver can win a couple of games but I think in the end, San Antonio’s experience, defense, and just chemistry in general will overcome and I think they win in six games.
-- Brian Winters appears courtesy of the National Basketball Coaches Association