- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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SAN ANTONIO My NBA Finals prediction went to print Monday night. In case you missed it: Spurs In Six.
My NBA Finals Wish List, meanwhile, comes now with a mere 20 wishes, since I'm not greedy:
I want to see whether Tony Parker vs. Chauncey Billups along with those supplementary doses of Tony Parker vs. Lindsey Hunter actually turns out to be the X factor among matchups in a series that already features four irresistible biggies: Tim Duncan vs. Rasheed Wallace, Manu Ginobili vs. Tayshaun Prince, Bruce Bowen vs. Rip Hamilton and Gregg Popovich vs. mentor Larry Brown.
I want to see how San Antonio responds to the rough stuff. Because you can be sure Detroit has watched film of the Seattle series and realizes that the only approach that has really troubled the Spurs this postseason is physicality (bordering on wrestling).
I want to see whether Detroit can manufacture another way to trouble San Antonio if the Spurs do handle the rough stuff. For if the Spurs can, and also overcome their infamous yips from the free-throw line and consistently make shots from the perimeter, too, Spurs In Six will have to be amended to Spurs In Five.
I want to see whether the week off the Spurs had is as helpful as they believe down here. No team typically wants that much time off between the conference finals and the title round, but the Spurs privately feel as though the lengthy break given the rest for Duncan's ankles and a couple of good practices they did have was nothing but productive.
I want to see what the conspiracy theorists are going to say now that we've got a Finals with no Shaquille O'Neal and no run-and-gun darlings from the desert and without one of the nation's four most populous, ratings-enhancing cities involved (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston) for just the third time in the past 20 years.
I want to see whether David Stern, at his annual Finals state-of-the-union address, has something harsh to say about Larry's flirtations with the Cavs, since those talks talks that I keep hearing went way too far for Larry to back out now are an affront to the integrity of the game in their own right.
I want to see whether Stern can surprise us all with some unexpected optimism about labor negotiations. Reason being: I can't find anyone involved in negotiations who believes there's less than a 98 percent chance that we're headed for a lockout on July 1.
I want to see widespread agreement that these two story lines Spurs Are Boring and Pistons Get No Respect are so played out that we can all finally stop addressing them.
I want to see no wincing at all when ESPN anchors remind you that this is the first time since the 1970 Finals (Willis Reed's Knicks over the Lakers in seven) in which the league's two stingiest defenses made it to the championship.
I want to see a loud scolding of any folks claiming they knew all along that the 1997 draft in which Duncan went No. 1 overall and Billups went No. 3 to a Boston team that was desperate for Duncan would produce two Finals MVPs.
I want to see Stephen A. Smith and Rasho Nesterovic cross paths at some stage over the next couple of weeks.
I want to see some of Eva Longoria's castmates at these Finals. Teri Hatcher and Seinfeld's Brenda Strong, specifically. Eva's getting too much airtime.
I want to see the dreaded Alanis Morissette, Thursday's scheduled singer of the national anthem, replaced by Stein Line favorite Miri Ben-Ari, the hip-hop violinist from Israel who performed at the All-Star Game in Denver back in February.
I want to see the little smile on Darko Milicic's face when someone (probably me) comes up and reminds him that Larry will only be his coach for the rest of the month.
I want to see whether Ginobili gives Duncan a decent run for Finals MVP. Because he should if San Antonio wins it all.
I want to see which Piston wins Finals MVP if Detroit can overcome San Antonio's many advantages and win this thing. It was Billups last June, but does anyone see a leader in the clubhouse on that team after its first three series?
I want to see how much fawning will come from the nation's hoops punditry if Duncan wins his first ring without David Robinson in just Admiral Dave's second season as a courtside fan ... and with Nazr Mohammed, Robert Horry, Rasho and Tony Massenburg as the Spurs' other power players.
I want to see whether Detroit can maintain its intensity consistently for a whole series, because the Pistons are going to need to focus better against this opponent. They have been guilty all season of doing only what they have to do to get by. They need to come with something extra after even Billups admitted Wednesday that "we're facing a tougher team this year in the Finals."
I want to see this thing go at least six games, because an NBA Finals has to be long to be dramatic. Michael Jordan's Bulls, remember, were stretched to six games in five of their six trips to the Finals. When the Lakers and Celtics met for the title three times in the 1980s, it never went fewer than six. The modern Finals, meanwhile, have lasted six games only twice since Jordan's (second) Bulls' retirement Lakers over Indiana in 2000, Spurs over Nets in 2003 but even those two Finals felt like five-gamers because the West champ was such an overwhelming favorite. Until Detroit's breakthrough, the mighty West (viz: Lakers and Spurs) racked up five straight championships by a combined series score of 20 games to six.
I want to see my faith in America justified. I saw where Game 7 in the East was the highest-rated NBA playoff game in the history of cable television, and that can't simply be because Shaq and Dwyane Wade were playing. I saw the Game 7 numbers (6.75 million households), and they convinced me that America is not anti-Piston. They give me hope that America will appreciate the fact that we've been presented with the two most team-oriented teams the NBA can give us, which is what America has been saying for years that it wants.
14hMarc Stein and Calvin Watkins