Steinmetz: Finals has potential to flop

I’m worried about the NBA Finals.

I’m worried that two of the best players on the planet — Tim Duncan and LeBron James — will be overshadowed by two of the most limited players in the series — Bruce Bowen and Anderson Varejao.

Duncan is the best frontcourt player in the league and has been for years. To basketball lovers, he is a joy to watch. As for James, after his Eastern Conference finals performance against the Detroit Pistons, he now has staked a claim to the title of best perimeter player in the NBA.

That’s why I’m so concerned about Bowen and Varejao.

The NBA Finals is usually about the stars … Bird, Magic, Jordan, Russell, etc. But a disturbing trend has surfaced during this year’s playoffs and it doesn’t show any signs of abating.

The flop, unfortunately, has emerged as the great defensive equalizer. And it is the flop that could make a dud out of the 2007 NBA Finals.

Bowen and Varejao are two committed defenders who deserve credit for their dedication to that end of the floor. But somewhere along the line, both of those players crossed a line, trading in a hard-nosed defensive style for gimmickry.

Worst part about it is that the NBA and its officials have allowed it. Bowen and Varejao are masters at initiating contact with physical play, clutching, grabbing, leaning and pushing, and then going all soft when they get the bump.

In many ways, Bowen and Varejao represent what’s wrong with the NBA. Because while they have somehow managed to foster defensive reputations, they are in turn allowed to get away with more than your average player.

Bowen has long tip-toed on the line separating playing hard from playing dirty; Varejao is just plain old annoying. Bowen and Varejao are among a new group of players who seek out a collision and then hope for the best.

They step in to take a charge at every opportunity, whether it’s there or it’s not. Why not? More often than not, they are rewarded with the offensive foul call. And the more they are rewarded, the more they do it.

I can just see it now. Varejao will be pestering and slapping and reaching and bodying up Duncan and right when Duncan goes to make his move Varejao will launch himself backward and hurl himself to the floor.

I can also see Bowen, getting into James’ vertical space, sticking his leg and foot underneath James, then lurching backward when James tries to make a move around him.

Again, Bowen and Varejao are good defenders. But officials have turned them into something they are not nor should they be: Defensive superstars.

I’m worried that Duncan and James will be in foul trouble for much of the series and we’ll be robbed of seeing the two most talented players in the series.

Duncan and James have been masterful in the postseason, showing how you combine individual greatness with a team-first philosophy.

Here’s hoping they have a chance to do that in the Finals.

Matt Steinmetz is the NBA insider for Warriors telecasts on Fox Sports Net.


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