King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Steve Nash for MVP! Of the playoffs. Plus: Inside the mind of a champion with Bill Walton.

By Salon Staff
Published May 23, 2005 7:00PM (EDT)

The slam-dunk choice for Most Valuable Player has to be Steve Nash.

I'm talking about the playoffs. What did you think I meant?

"Now that you've written your column admitting your mistaken evaluation of Reggie Miller, I'm waiting for the one about Steve Nash," writes Canadian reader Richard Nemesvari, who says -- I think legitimately -- that his views aren't colored by nationalist bias.

Reader Bill Robinson agrees. "Seems to me that you may have to revisit your opinion of Steve Nash as well," he writes. "It looks to me like he is stepping up in the playoffs."

Nash is definitely stepping up in the playoffs. All he did in the last three games of the Dallas series was average 40 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds. He had an off day Sunday in the Game 1 loss to the Spurs, only scoring 29 points and handing out 13 assists.

But why should I take back what I said about Nash's play in the regular season just because he's stepped up in the playoffs?

The MVP is a regular-season award. My opinion of his regular season was that he was very, very good, but not the MVP of the league. He could score 100 points a night in the playoffs and it wouldn't change his regular season.

You're free to disagree with my assessment that Nash wasn't the MVP and most of you do. But you can't use the playoffs to bolster your argument. I mean, Dwyane Wade has been unconscious throughout these playoffs and Kevin Garnett is sitting at home, but nobody's suggesting that Garnett's 2004 MVP should now go to Wade.

So anyway, watching the Spurs pile up 121 points -- their highest regulation total all season -- in beating the Suns Sunday, I was reminded of that famous quote about Alabama football coaching legend Bear Bryant: "He can take his'n and beat your'n, and he can take your'n and beat his'n."

The Spurs can beat you their way, with a slowed down, grinding game. But if you want to get out and run the way the Suns do, they can beat you that way too.

Which is not to say the Suns have no chance here. San Antonio won't be holding Shawn Marion to three points a night for the duration of the series, and Brent Barry doesn't figure to regularly pour in 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting, 5-for-8 from beyond the arc. Though as Barry pointed out after the game, that's pretty much what the Spurs hired him to do.

Contrary to their reputations, the Suns can play defense and the Spurs can play offense. They're both on the high side of middle-of-the-pack. I think the key here is that the Spurs are a little better on offense than the Suns are on defense.

Also, one of my cockamamie theories is that a great defense has a better chance of stopping a great offense than a decent defense has of stopping a decent offense. And you have almost no chance at following that sentence but what I'm saying favors the Spurs.

I think the Spurs are going to win this series, but if Tim Duncan's gimpy ankles get any gimpier, they're going to be in big trouble. And since it's too easy to pick a team that already has a 1-0 lead, I'll offer two side bets: I think the series will go seven games, and there will be at least one game in which the winner doesn't score 100 points, something that hasn't happened in a Suns game in more than a month.

In the Eastern Conference finals, which start Monday night and which represent your last chance to watch TNT's great basketball broadcasts this year, I'm sticking with my original pick of the Heat over the Pistons, but only because that's the honorable thing to do.

I've been perfect in predicting the outcome of the six Eastern series so far, which I think says more about NBA playoff predictability than about my prognosticating prowess, but I'm on the ropes here if Shaquille O'Neal's bruised thigh hasn't recovered sufficiently for him to play better against Detroit than he did against New Jersey and Washington. And the reports are that he's hurting.

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I love Bill Walton [PERMALINK]

I do. I love Bill Walton as an announcer. I love him for the way he provides what I think is the best view ever into the mind of an elite athlete, a champion.

If you're looking for quality analysis on the X's and O's front, Walton's not your man, but there are plenty of guys who can break down a ballgame for you. Walton's frequent foil, Steve "Snapper" Jones, is excellent at that, just to name one.

But if you want a peek into the psyche of a great one in the heat of battle, Walton gives it to you, whether he means to or not. One example: Have you ever noticed that his advice to any team in any situation is always the same? It's "keep attacking."

Insightful? No. Always good advice? Probably not. When the man you're attacking is Tim Duncan and you are, say, Eric Dampier, you might want to think about other approaches. But it sure worked for Bill Walton. When you're the best player on the floor, why not keep attacking?

Walton talks a lot about leadership and emotion and chemistry and all that sort of intangible stuff, which I think has a real place in basketball. He often contradicts himself on the details -- Jones was hilarious Friday night in the Suns-Mavericks finale as he pointed out each of Walton's self-canceling statements -- but the underlying message is always the same.

I'm not sure I have a handle on exactly what the message is, but the best I can boil it down to is this: When you're an athlete playing at the top level, you have to believe you can't be beaten and you have to play like you can't accept being beaten, and the only way you can be beaten is to let yourself be beaten.

Hearing someone come out and say that would be dull, a motivational speech by some corporate consultant. Discerning it from between the lines of Walton's sometimes loopy pronouncements is fascinating to me.

Oh, and I also love it when Walton just plain doesn't make sense.

"Crowd is surging," he said in Dallas Friday night, "trying to push their beloved Mavericks through the fatigue." There were three and a half minutes gone in the first quarter, and the crowd was quiet.

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