In football, a Super Bowl match-up between two small markets like Green Bay and Indianapolis would be greeted with great enthusiasm, and television ratings would be no worse than if New York were playing Chicago. That's not true of the National Basketball Association. Instead of openly embracing underdog clubs from smaller cities, commentators openly worry that nobody will care if the Memphis Grizzlies and Indiana Pacers wind up in the NBA finals.
Few predict that Indiana will upset Miami in the Eastern Conference finals, but the match-up in the West between Memphis and San Antonio is worthy of attention, particularly from the anybody-but-Miami camp of hoops fans.
Since drafting Tim Duncan in 1997, the Spurs have won four titles (1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007), three with Tony Parker at point guard. But San Antonio's cast of role players might be more responsible for the team's success over the years. Monday night's decisive 105-83 game one victory over Memphis was no different as relative unknowns Kawhi Leonard, Matt Bonner and Gary Neal were difference-makers.
Meanwhile, Memphis has leaned heavily, and improbably, on Zach Randolph this year. Averaging over 18 points and nine rebounds in the playoffs, Randolph is better known for a rap sheet that includes DUI, street racing, on-court violence and other criminal charges over his 12-year, four-team career. Randolph might be tough to root for, but teammates like Mike Conley, Tayshaun Prince and Marc Gasol are key players on a team that has won eight out of its last nine games in workmanlike fashion. Former Badger Jon Leuer has been playing a few minutes a game.
Miami is overwhelmingly favored to win its second straight NBA title, but the Western Conference finals could go seven games and entertain throughout.