Cavs, Jazz Face Uphill Battle in NBA Playoffs

The San Antonio Spurs and the Detroit Pistons seek to advance to the NBA finals against opponents who appear to be outmatched. The Spurs and Pistons lead their series' with the Utah Jazz and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Well, the NBA conference finals are underway this week with the San Antonio Spurs and the Detroit Pistons heavy favorites to advance to the finals. Their playing opponents who, at least on paper, appear to be outmatched.

Commentator John Feinstein joins us now to discuss what's really happened and what may happen to the playoffs. John, good morning.

JOHN FEINSTEIN: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Okay, let's start out of the West. You've got the Spurs and the Utah Jazz, two games in their series, and what's happening?

FEINSTEIN: Well, there's an old saying in sports that a playoff series doesn't really start until someone loses a home game. But this looks very one-sided. The Spurs have won the first two games at home. The next two will go on to Utah.

The Jazz are a really good young team. They really had a great season to get this far. But given the strength of the Spurs with Tim Duncan, who I think is the most underrated player in basketball, anchoring them, heading in the direction of a fourth title in nine years, it's going to be awfully difficult for Utah.

INSKEEP: You said the Jazz were a good young team, are they a team of the future?

FEINSTEIN: Yeah, I think they are. They came out of nowhere this year, a team that hadn't made playoffs for a couple of years, to be in the conference final. And I don't think they're going to get swept. I think they'll win at least one game on their home court. And Jerry Sloan has been coaching them I think since early in the 20th century, and he's just one of the best coaches in basketball even though he's never won an NBA title.

INSKEEP: Now what about the series that the Spurs won to get this far?

FEINSTEIN: Well, you know, they beat the Phoenix Suns, who were the most exciting team in basketball, and that was the series that everybody wanted to see - San Antonio-Phoenix. But unfortunately it was really sullied by an insinuating game four when the Spurs' Robert Horry kind of hip-checked Steve Nash of the Suns into the scorers table.

Now Steve Nash is a Canadian, so he can relate to hockey-type moves, but nonetheless that led to two of the Suns leaving the bench, most notably Amare Stoudemire. And as a result, Stoudemire was suspended because the league rules give no flexibility if you leave the bench during a fight and the commissioner just had to suspend him. And that suspension really turned the series around.

And even now as we're a series out, people are still talking about that, should the commissioner have been more flexible. And what I think will happen, Steve, is that rule will be changed at the end of the season to give the commish more flexibility in the future.

INSKEEP: Is that right to change it?

FEINSTEIN: I think it's right to change it, although the rule exists for very good reasons dating back to the horrible 1977 fight between Rudy Tomjanovich and Kermit Washington, when Rudy Tomjanovich came into a fight and ended up almost dying in a hospital later that night. That's why rules like that exist.

INSKEEP: Let's talk about Detroit and Cleveland here. What's happening in that series?

FEINSTEIN: Well, again, Detroit is the experienced team, the deep team with all sorts of depth up and down. Cleveland is built around one superstar, LeBron James. He is the most telegenic guy left in these playoffs, clearly the league would love to see the Cavaliers in the finals.

I think this is going to be a closer series than most people believe, that the Cavaliers will take it to at least six games. But in the end I think Detroit's depth is going to be too much and they'll go on and play the Spurs in the finals.

INSKEEP: Basketball has not been quite exciting enough to keep you from watching hockey, I gather.

FEINSTEIN: The hockey has been unbelievable. I know I'm one of about 27 people in this country who actually watches it. But the Anaheim Ducks, of Mighty Ducks movie fame, and the Ottawa Senators are both in the finals now. Neither one of them has ever won a Stanley Cup and they both won some great series to get this far. If you like hockey at all, I'm not here to, you know, be a shill for hockey.

INSKEEP: Oh, yes, you are.

FEINSTEIN: It's been great stuff. Overtime Stanley Cup hockey is as good as it gets in sports, and I think this will be a great final since neither franchise has ever won a cup.

INSKEEP: John, happy watching.

FEINSTEIN: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: Comments from John Feinstein. His new book is "Tales from Q School: Inside Golf's Fifth Major."

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