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1999 NBA Playoffs

A Finals frenzy

Favored Spurs have hometown in a partying mood

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Posted: Tuesday June 15, 1999 09:04 PM

  While Tim Duncan and several other Spurs have never been to the Finals, Mario Elie brings the experience of two Rockets' titles. AP

Half full, half empty | Storylines | The Bandwagon

By John Donovan, CNN/SI

This is a special NBA Finals edition of “The NBA at a Glance.” Check back every day until the Finals are decided for a new glance.

SAN ANTONIO -- You can crunch the numbers and page through all the sports history books you want.

It still boggles the mind, in the grand scheme of the NBA as we’ve known it.

The San Antonio Spurs, an old ABA team, tip off Wednesday night in the NBA Finals.

The San Antonio Spurs. In the NBA Finals.

As favorites, even.

This is indeed a whole new NBA.

”This team really has no weaknesses, which is why they've won 10 playoff games in a row,” New York Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy said of the Spurs, “which is unheard of."

The Spurs, the hottest team for the past -- oh, let’s just call it the whole darn season -- go into the best-of-seven Finals for the first time in their 26-year history and the good people of San Antonio hardly know how to act.

They’ve sold out the cavernous Alamodome, for sure, for Games 1 and 2. Game 6 here is sold out, too, if it’s really necessary, and there are only 4,000 tickets left for Game 7, if that one’s needed.

The city’s famed Riverwalk, the collection of restaurants and bars and shops and hotels that runs through downtown, is starting to hop as tourists and locals get into the swing of the NBA Finals. Banners adorn the main thoroughfares, “GO SPURS” messages are emblazoned in office windows, flags fly from cars, the Spurs dominate the evening news ...

Ah, the first time is unforgettable, isn’t it?

“We've got a chance to do something special for San Antonio," guard Mario Elie said. "This is a great situation.”

What’s making this city all the more delirious is the fact that the Spurs are not only in the Finals, they’re favored. History shows that 19 of the last 20 teams to win the NBA title finished the regular season with one of the league’s top three records.

The Spurs were an NBA-best 37-13 in the shortened 1999 season. Their opponents, the hobbled but hardy New York Knicks, were 27-23, 13th in the league.

Another historical fact favoring the Spurs: Every NBA champion in the last 20 years has been a division-winner during the regular season. The Spurs won the Midwest, the Knicks were fourth in the Atlantic.

There’s more, almost all of it making the Spurs look almost unbeatable. The homecourt advantage, which the Spurs have, is overwhelming in the Finals. No eighth-seed, which is what the Knicks started this improbable postseason, ever has made it this far.

And on and on and on.

No wonder San Antonians are fastbreaking their way into a frenzy.


Half full, half empty
Screaming fans
The good : More than 38,000 screaming fans will pack into the Alamodome for Games 1 and 2. It’ll be loud, it’ll be exciting, it’ll be what the NBA Finals should be.
The bad: At least 30,000 of those fans will have crummy seats. Might as well hold the darn thing in a football stadium. Oh, yeah ...
Latrell Sprewell
The good : The renowned bad boy has walked the straight and narrow all season long, cleared his name and brought the New York Knicks to the verge of an unlikely NBA championship with his exciting scoring ability and clutch play.
The bad : Clutch play? You wanna talk clutch play? The guy CHOKED HIS COACH!
Storylines We'll Be Following
Sweep or a (real) series?
The Spurs are the hottest thing in the NBA since Michael Jordan called it quits. The Knicks are, let’s face it, a lucky bounce and .8 of a second from being first-round playoff losers. The Spurs are rested, healthy and confident. The Knicks are worn down, limping and ... confident. Oddsmakers favor the Spurs, heavily, in Game 1 on Wednesday night. Can San Antonio pull off the first NBA Finals sweep since the Houston Rockets dumped the Orlando Magic in 1995? Or can the game but lame Knickerbockers take this one the distance?
LJ -- Will he or won’t he?
You know the Knicks are thin if they’re looking at the availability of Larry Johnson and his sprained right knee as maybe the biggest factor in the series. With him, the reasoning goes, the underdog Knicks have a chance. Without him ... well, without LJ, the story goes, Spike Lee may have some time this summer to actually work on a film. Johnson hit some huge shots, for sure, in the Eastern Conference finals against the Indiana Pacers. But if one guy is it -- a guy who averaged 12 points a game during the season -- hoo, boy, New York, you’re in trouble.
The pain and the pressure
The Spurs have the talent, the size and the depth over the Knicks. They’re more rested, and they’re healthier. They have the Domecourt advantage. OK, their uniforms are uglier, but that hardly comes into play. One thing they don’t have is the rich playoff history of the Knicks, who are in their 12th straight postseason and in their eighth trip to the NBA Finals. How much will that mean in this series? Can the raised expectations get to the untested Mr. Robinson and the seemingly unflappable Mr. Duncan? They should be OK in the Alamodome, but what happens when they get in a real arena like Madison Square Garden, for Games 3-5, next Monday, Wednesday and Friday?

The Bandwagon
Jeff Van Gundy He may never be more up
San Antonio Not Chi-town or NY -- or even SLC -- thank goodness
Van Gundy’s hairline (Sorry, had to do it)
Larry Johnson Knicks kneed him, and his knee
NBA TV ”Mommy, can I stay up to watch the NBA ...?” “No! It’s too late! Shut up and go to bed!”

Related information
Not much bad blood flows between Knicks, Spurs
Expect the unexpected in the battle for NBA title
Marty Burn's NBA Finals Preview
English Lesson: How to beat the Spurs
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