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In My Opinion

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Compelling Finals have everything but a villain

Tom Sorensen
Tom Sorensen has been a columnist at The Observer for about three decades, writing about nearly every sport in the Carolinas.

I wish San Antonio or Miami had a player such as Lance Stephenson so I’d have somebody to pull against. Perceived evil will always have a place in athletics.

But if Stephenson – the Indiana Pacer whose antics undermined his sport but not his target, LeBron James – played for San Antonio or Miami he wouldn’t be Lance Stephenson. The Spurs and Heat wouldn’t allow it.

To respect basketball is to respect San Antonio. The Spurs work hard and play smart and selflessly. As a result, there’s a tendency to ascribe qualities to their opponents that don’t exist.

Miami is not a collection of egotistical rogue superstars. The NBA Finals, which begin Thursday, match not only the two best teams in basketball but two of the classiest. Find me a selfish shoot-first player on the Spurs. Find me one on the Heat. At no point will San Antonio or Miami stand around and watch while teammates go one-on-world.

I was in Miami April 20 when the Heat opened the playoffs against Charlotte. If the Finals go seven games, the playoffs will have lasted 62 days. The NFL and Major League Baseball playoffs required less than a month to determine a champion. The only major sport whose playoffs last longer is NASCAR. The 2014 Chase is 63 days.

Although jokes about the length of the NBA playoffs are older than Tim Duncan, I’m in no hurry to see them end. If a thing is good, don’t you want it to last?

There are reasons to pick San Antonio other than Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker (and I hope Parker is healthy). Last season only a dramatic 3-pointer from Ray Allen enabled the Heat to prevail. Unlike last season the Spurs have home-court advantage. And Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter are better than they were in 2013.

At 32, San Antonio’s Boris Diaw occasionally is spectacular. He scored 26 in Game 6, the deciding game in the Western Conference finals against Oklahoma City.

Diaw is an accomplished passer who can drive to the basket and drive a coach almost crazy, as former Charlotte coach Paul Silas will attest.

Diaw played for the Charlotte Bobcats for parts of two seasons and two full ones, the last of them in 2011-12. The Bobcats won seven games that season and Diaw, a nice and interesting guy, didn’t care.

You can be nice and interesting and not be honorable. Silas, who as a player was consistently relentless, told me that if he had Diaw’s talent he’d be in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

The Bobcats cut Diaw March 21, 2012, and San Antonio hired him two days later.

You saw Miami struggle against Charlotte’s injured center, Al Jefferson, in the opening round. Miami is great at stealing the ball but not so good at stopping big men. Along with Duncan, San Antonio will send Splitter to the hoop.

But I’m not picking against LeBron. San Antonio will stick Leonard on him, and Leonard (like LeBron) made the NBA’s all-defensive second team.

LeBron, however, is an extraordinary player and leader and the best passing non-point guard superstar since Larry Bird. He and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have played in three straight NBA championships and won the last two.

For LeBron to legitimately be compared to Michael Jordan, this is a series his team has to win. He is the best player on whatever court he steps and he will spend most of June proving it. I like the Heat in six.

The Finals ought to be fantastic, offering highlights we’ll remember until the 2014-15 season begins – in 146 days.

Sorensen: 704-358-5119; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen
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