Western Conference Finals Preview

I can't believe the series starts tomorrow. I still feel drained and (news flash) I didn't even play. I also didn't sleep on a plane last night. I slept in my bed, underneath a comforter which has no use being used during an Austin spring.

I can't hate the Lakers like I used to. Shaq's gone. Kobe, well, he never riled me up much as a basketball player; plus he's Everyman's Teammate now, starring in affirming weight loss commercials and helping garbage men at the curbs of suburbia. Phil Jackson sits atop a disarming cushion of humility. They still have Derek Fisher, he of point four and a thousand unearned charges, but I don't have the stomach to stir up vitriol for a man with a sick daughter and amazing abs. They're intoxicating. (Actually I've never been drunk so hopefully my editor will fact-check that.) And we know where Robert Horry ended up; still can't believe he's dead alive dead.

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Keys to the series:

1) Tony Parker must utterly destroy Derek Fisher. He must dominate the match-up in a fashion similar to the 2007 Finals. He must continuously get to the basket and exploit the Lakers relative lack of an inside presence. He must make Derek Fisher embarrassed to look his teammates in the eye. Derek Fisher cannot guard Tony Parker. He can't. He musn't. I had musnt in Hamburg once. Really salty.

2) Tim Duncan must thoroughly outplay Pau Gasol. Duncan doesn't have the quicks to guard Odom. Pop just might be zany enough to put him on Radmanovic, but that takes Tim awfully far from the basket he so loves to protect. That leaves only Pau. He must make the Spaniard a poor option on the offensive end. He's got to frustrate him and limit his fast break opportunities.

3) Fatality, Findog, the Detritus that is Robert Horry; somebody has to step up every game and play beyond their means.

4) Bowen needs to defend like he's 31 and not 36.

5) Pop needs to be perfect. Taking two games to put Bowen on Peja is unforgivable. And don't get me started about David West and Duncan.

6) Manu needs to be more Manuer than he's been all playoffs.

You might be looking at this list and thinking "wow, that's a lot of stuff the Spurs have to do to win." Yeah. It is. The Lakers are really good. During the regular season they were 22-4 when Pau Gasol played. Include the playoffs and that becomes 30-6. They're demonstrably a better team than New Orleans.

There's also the matter of schedule. During the playoffs the Spurs are 2-3 in games played on one days rest and 6-1 in games played with more than one days rest. What's the Laker's schedule like? Every single game will be played on one days rest.

Can the Spurs beat the Lakers? Yes. Absolutely. But.

Here's the thing. Four things, actually.

1) I'm not a cheerleader. This blog, for me, isn't about ignoring the Spurs foibles (this is, from a building audience perspective, really dumb). I write about Manu's perfection because he is, in fact, without flaws. And a wizard. And a ninja. He's a ninja-wizard.

2) I'm not a liar. If you ask me what I think about the Spurs I feel compelled to be honest.

3) I don't believe in juju. Whether or not I think the Spurs are going to win affects absolutely nothing. I could say "Spurs in four!" and tell all the Faker-fans to suck it, but, really, what's the point? You think Tony reads this blog and thinks "Well if Matthew think we can do it then well ok alright let's do this thing!?"

4) I hate being wrong. Hate hate hate. Would I rather be right than have the Spurs win? Well maybe. Of course not! How did you know? How dare you even ask?!

Look, I know we just pulled out a tough win in game 7 against New Orleans. Everything was riding on that game and the Spurs came through. Except they didn't. Duncan, Manu and Parker all played badly. The Hornets just played worse. You think for a single second the Lakers are going to lay an egg like that in a game 7? The Lakers would have beaten us by 20.

Lakers in 6. Sorry. Here's to hoping you guys can throw that in my face for the rest of eternity.

(My extra apologies to SiMA, who will have to spend all day Wednesday thinking of ways to counteract the immense about of bad juju I just released into the internets.)

Fuck it. The Spurs have Manu. The Lakers do not. Spurs in 6.

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