SAN ANTONIO -- Four more wins and you'll hear it plenty, whether you want to or not: This is the best Spurs team they've ever had down here.
Best Spurs ever? We'll see
You'll naturally also hear about how boring they are and how, uh, grabby they can be, but give San Antonio this:
The Spurs are the first to say that this might be the luckiest team they've ever had down here, too.
"Tonight we caught a break," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich quickly conceded Wednesday, "and we realize that."
It wasn't their first of the postseason, either, as you might have heard. The team from Dallas that was "built to beat us," according to one club official, couldn't get out of the first round. There was a controversial suspension or two, as well as a famously bloody nose, that nudged them past the Suns in the second round. Then Wednesday, with Utah's best player forced to pull his sprained right foot out of a protective boot to play this Game 5, San Antonio surged to an effortless 19-point lead in the first quarter and closed the Jazz and a hobbling Deron Williams out with a 109-84 rout.
"They destroyed our will to want to play," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said.
Lucky and really good.
It's a lethal combination.
You don't win championships without fortune, no matter what. That's probably why Popovich, just as in 2005 when the Spurs clinched their last trip to the NBA Finals, commemorated this victory with almost the same speech he made in Phoenix two years ago about the lottery blessing his franchise.
Asked to explain how the Spurs have positioned themselves to play for a third championship in five years and fourth in nine years, Pop said: "That's an easy equation. It is David Robinson followed by Tim Duncan."
It is a lot more than that, actually, but you know the Spurs. They're so annoyingly modest, which is yet another reason -- along with the alleged flops, chops and other Uglyball tactics that they use when necessary -- that this team gets tagged with all the boring stuff.
Take a closer look, though, and you'll note that the Spurs cracked 100 points on this night for the sixth time in the last two series. Forgotten amid all the controversies in the previous round is the fact that they were also so clinical that the Suns' best team in the Steve Nash era was playing catch-up from Game 1.
The Spurs' efficiency and adaptability in returning to the title round has only reinforced their growing Play At Any Pace reputation, continuing a revival from the midseason doldrums that had many league observers -- when they weren't trumpeting Dallas and Phoenix -- calling them old, slow and finished.
They have Duncan looking reborn at 31 and dominating anew because he's as healthy as he's been in years. They also have him flanked by a seasoned Tony Parker, who at 25 no longer fades in the playoffs, as well as an increasingly spry Manu Ginobili, who's healthier himself at 29 than he seemed just weeks ago.
Mix in the role players who snap together so nicely -- Bruce Bowen, Michael Finley, Robert Horry and Ginobili's increasingly effective countryman Fabricio Oberto -- and there's little mystery why San Antonio will be comfortably favored to take down whoever wins the East.
"I can't see anybody beating them," Williams said. "I'm not going to say they can't be beat, but they play so well together."
Said Sloan: "They have got guys that know what they can accomplish as soon as they step on the floor. They got a lot of great pieces to a great team."
Best Spurs Ever?
"That's a tough question," said Jazz guard Derek Fisher, who's a pretty qualified judge after numerous duels with San Antonio in his Laker years. "In terms of versatility and the ability to play different styles, I can see why people would say that.
"This team is different [than previous Spurs teams], I can admit that."
Different in a good way, Fisher meant . . . but with one exception.
It has to feel a bit like 2005 all over again for the Spurs and not just because of the potential Detroit rematch looming.
The Lakers, as they did in '05 with the rehiring of Phil Jackson, are smothering the playoffs with their latest off-court dramas. As my old Dallas Morning News colleague David Moore joked, San Antonio bouncing a Utah team that took the Mavs' spot in the West finals -- a team that was never supposed to get this far -- ranks as maybe the fifth-biggest story in the league right now ... behind all of Kobe Bryant's various Trade Me/Scratch That pronouncements.
We'll have to wait a whopping seven days before Game 1 of the Finals -- which can only help San Antonio, in Parker's estimation, because "we've got a lot of old guys" -- to see if these better-than-ever Spurs can win another odd-year championship and move up a spot or two.
"If we don't finish in the next round," Ginobili said, "no one will remember what we did against Denver, Phoenix and Utah."
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.
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Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs celebrates with fiancée/actress Eva Longoria after winning the West.
The constant flip-flopping -- not to mention his throwing his current teammates under the bus in such blatant and disrespectful fashion -- has made him look confused, wishy-washy and selfish. I'll give Kobe Bryant the benefit of the doubt by saying he's speaking out of emotion, but many in the public may not be so gracious.
I also don't like Kobe sounding as if he's so persecuted. Again, he has a right to be upset after a "Lakers insider" blamed Shaq's departure entirely on him. I believe Kobe -- in part, because of what I've long heard elsewhere -- when he says Jerry Buss decided independently of him to trade Shaq because he didn't want to pay him $80 million.
Jerry Buss, Kobe and Shaq all played a role in the demolition of that dynasty, so it's unfair and unfortunate that Kobe's shouldered the blame for three years.
But Kobe wasn't the completely innocent, unaware bystander he's saying he was. If he and Shaq hadn't been at such odds, perhaps it would not have come to that. And if he had said, "if you want me back, bring Shaq back so we can continue competing for championships,'' Buss may have worked out a way to keep Shaq.
There was definitely a part -- an understandable part -- of Kobe that wanted to see how far he could take a team on his own. Kobe's benchmark is Michael Jordan, and I believe Kobe wanted to see if he could win titles like Jordan did -- without a dominant big man.
After winning three rings at such a young age -- not to mention the drama he had with Shaq -- I can understand Kobe wanting to see what it would be like to have his own team. Well, this is what it's like.
Chad Ford was on hand for the first full day of Orlando predraft camp. Here's who didn't fare so well:
I think I want to take back all that lobbying I did on behalf of James this week to get him into the camp.
He has speed and strength, but he was the only player here to do virtually nothing in the game. If that's not the signal he needs to go back to Marquette, I don't know what is.
Daequan Cook, SG, Ohio State
Cook may have more raw talent than anyone else at the camp, but he's also the youngest player here and it really showed.
He displayed poor shot selection, forced way too many plays and ended up looking very much like a kid who needs to go back to school.
I know he says he's staying in the draft, and some team may take him late in the first round based on his upside, but Day 1 was a pretty big disappointment.
Dominic McGuire, F, Fresno State
I've never understood some of the hype surrounding McGuire, and he did nothing today to justify it. He struggled to score on Demetris Nichols, a guy not known as a defensive stopper. Whatever his game is, it was difficult to see in this setting.
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, who each had 21 points in the Spurs' Game 5 win over Utah, talk it over after finishing a game that was one big victory lap.
Quote of the Day:
If the Lakers decide to trade him, Kobe Bryant still holds a no-trade clause that he can selectively enforce, and he would likely insist on a team that would give him an immediate shot at a title.
After talking to the NBA executives all of them mentioned (at least) two teams: the Bulls and the Suns.
The Bulls are the obvious choice, and a source close to the situation claims that Kobe has been eyeing Chicago for the past month as his preferred destination.
To make it happen in a way that gives the Lakers sufficient value in return and keeps the Bulls competitive enough to still play for a title, here's what probably would have to happen: Bryant to Chicago for Luol Deng, Ben Gordon, Adrian Griffin, and Victor Khryapa.
To make this deal work under the cap, the Bulls also would have to re-sign P.J. Brown to a one-year deal worth roughly $6.5 million to make the salaries match within 25 percent of each other. So in that sign-and-trade scenario Brown also would have to be included in the offer to the Lakers. If that's not enough to entice the Lakers, the Bulls also could throw in the No. 9 pick in the draft.
That probably would be the best deal the Lakers could get. They would fill holes at the 2 and 3, cut several million from the cap and (if a pick's involved) get a top-10 pick in one of the best drafts in a decade.
It's a little shakier for the Bulls, because would they give up two key players and replace them with one. Bryant and Kirk Hinrich would be great together in the backcourt. They would still have Ben Wallace and could re-sign restricted free agent Andres Nocioni.
Chris Sheridan examines possible Kobe trade destinations/scenarios:
Any package presumably would begin with Stephon Marbury, whose salary is almost an identical match with Kobe Bryant 's, and then the Knicks would have to include a package of young players (David Lee, Channing Frye, Nate Robinson) and (presumably) their No. 1 pick in exchange for an additional player the Lakers would want to get rid of (Vladimir Radmanovic?).
Bryant has a good relationship with Isiah Thomas, who courted Bryant three summers ago when he was a free agent, and he could probably be sold on the argument that teaming him with a dominant offensive big man, Eddy Curry, would make the Knicks immediate championship contenders.
How about the young prince? No, that's right, we have a Prince.
Whatever you want to call him, he has appeared out of nowhere and made this Cavs-Pistons Eastern Conference finals a series that makes you want to fast-forward to the next game. Who would have predicted that a guy who's played in only 60 games and less than 1,000 minutes this season would have helped turn this series on its head?
The previous series against New Jersey gave no indication of things to come, either. Gibson played only 11 minutes per game, shot 9-of-27 from the floor and went to the foul line only two times. All of a sudden he looks like Allen Iverson on drives with his attacking style of play.