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Favorites take early leads in NBA's conference finals

It sure looks like my pre-playoff assessment of two of the NBA's four remaining teams was off the mark.

I'm realizing now I sold the Spurs way short, even after they tied the Bulls for the best regular-season mark in the NBA. My rationale was that a superstar-less team couldn't really be that good. Nine wins and zero losses later, it's obvious that San Antonio is that good. The Spurs may not have a true in-his-prime superstar, but they have one guy who's close (Tony Parker, who I don't give enough credit), a Hall of Famer who is playing his best basketball in a long time (Tim Duncan), a ton of nice pieces (Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Jackson) and a great, great coach (Gregg Popovich).

On the other hand, I thought way too much of the Celtics when the playoff started. I thought Boston's veteran core would make one last stand, and made the Celtics the one viable challenger to the Bulls and the Heat in the Eastern Conference. They've gotten this far, so in a sense that's been proven right, but only after needing six games to get past an unremarkable Hawks team and seven to get back a very mediocre 76ers team.

And after the Heat started the East finals with a 93-79 win, I don't consider the Celtics much of a threat. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James turned it on in the final few games of the Indiana series, and it didn't look last night like the aging (old?) Celtics could keep pace. Maybe Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and company will dig deep and make a series of it, and maybe James can choke away enough to keep things interesting. I'm guessing not, though. I'll take Miami in five.

Things could be more interesting out West, as the Thunder certainly have the talent to bounce back from Sunday's 101-98 loss. Like the Heat, they have the two best players on the court in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Unlike the Heat, they have to go against Popovich and against a deeper and better Spurs team. I think the Spurs win in six.


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