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|SI's Marty Burns' Breakdown|
|Minnesota || ||San Antonio |
| Despite standing just 6-foot-7, Reggie Slater has held his own in the middle since replacing Rasho Nesterovic as the starter in midseason. Though he averaged only 4.6 points and 3.3 rebounds, he'll be counted on to bang with Robinson and use his fouls wisely.
|| CENTER |
| David Robinson, 35, says he's healthy going into the playoffs -- and he'll need to be. Most of the time he'll be the one assigned to guard Kevin Garnett. The 7-foot Robinson must make him work for his points, stay out of foul trouble and use his size advantage over Slater & Co. to generate offense at the other end.
| What more can be said about Kevin Garnett, a legitimate MVP candidate who kept the T'wolves afloat despite all the adversity they faced before the season? KG can be counted on for his usual 22 points and 11 boards, even against Duncan, but he'll need help. Small forward Wally Szczerbiak, the second-year pro, must step up his offensive game and hit some outside shots to take the pressure off his frontcourt mate.
|| FORWARDS |
| After a slow start getting back in shape from the knee injury that forced him out of the playoffs a year ago, Tim Duncan (22.4 points, 12.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists) has returned to his old MVP form. He's even hitting his foul shots. Sean Elliott is the team's top perimeter defender and a 3-point threat. However, he has battled shoulder and knee injuries much of the season, and is coming off a late-season scoring slump.
| Terrell Brandon is one of the NBA's most clever point guards and a dangerous scorer. His ability to run the pick-and-roll will be critical, as Minnesota tries to lure the Twin Towers out from under the basket. Felipe Lopez, a late-season pickup, will get the start at shooting guard because of his defense. Though he will split time with Anthony Peeler, he'll need to make outside shots when he's on the floor.
|| GUARDS |
| Shooting guard Derek Anderson has been a godsend for the Spurs, providing a much-needed slasher and athletic perimeter presence. He's also had success vs. Minnesota, scoring 29 and 30 points, respectively, in two games this season. He'll be joined in the backcourt by 38-year-old Terry Porter, who took over the starting job in midseason. Porter is a playoff-tested vet who makes good decisions with the ball and clutch shots.
| The T'wolves don't have a great bench, but LaPhonso Ellis, Chauncey Billups, Anthony Peeler and Nesterovic usually get the job done. Ellis has replaced the departed Joe Smith as the team's jack-of-all-trades, while Billups and Peeler provide explosive offense at the backcourt spots. A big key could be the play of the 7-foot Nesterovic, a disappointment much of the season whose size will be needed against the Twin Towers.
|| BENCH |
| With proven veterans such as Avery Johnson, Malik Rose, Antonio Daniels, and Danny Ferry, the Spurs boast one of the league's top benches. Even at 36, Johnson remains a steady floor leader and consummate professional. Daniels and Rose get the job done at both ends, while Ferry (46 percent from 3-point range) has been reborn as a big-time shot-maker who stretches the defense. |
| Flip Saunders is one of the most underrated coaches in the game. Despite not having an excess of talent, he has guided the T'wolves to the playoffs five consecutive seasons. He'll have his team primed to pull off the upset.
|| COACH |
| Gregg Popovich might have done a better job this season than he did in winning the NBA title two years ago. His patient handling of Duncan's return, as well as Avery Johnson's move to the bench, proved masterful. |
| Even though the T'wolves lost three of four to the Spurs during the regular season, all the games were close. Minnesota also knows it has the jump-shooters to negate San Antonio's size advantage, and after four previous first-round exits, it is hungry to take the next step. Saunders has even predicted his team will pull off the upset.
|| INTANGIBLES |
| The Spurs are an experienced, veteran-laden team that has been through lots of playoff battles in recent years. They won't get caught looking ahead. They're also on a roll, having won seven of eight heading into the playoffs. However, the Spurs are vulnerable to a streak-shooting team, especially in a short series.
| The T'wolves are one of the best shooting teams in the league, meaning they might be able to neutralize the Twin Towers by shooting over them from outside. If players like Peeler, Brandon and Szczerbiak can get hot and knock down shots, they have a chance to pull the upset.
|| 'X' FACTOR |
| The Spurs rank just 26th in the NBA in foul shooting. With the T'wolves' lack of interior size, Minnesota is likely going to hack the Twin Towers and take their chances with them at the line. Duncan (.619) and Robinson (.747) will need to step up and hit their free throws. |
|Burns' Prediction: Spurs in 5|