Spurs vs. Nets: Does Kidd have a chance?

What? It’s time for the NBA Finals? Already?

Actually, doesn’t it seem like the National Basketball Association started this year’s playoffs a long time ago, like way, way back?

I think “Gimme a Break” was still on TV back when the San Antonio Spurs first battled the Phoenix Suns and the New Jersey Nets first tipped off against Milwaukee.

But now, at last, it’s time to rise from your Rip Van Winkle sleep, shave that beard off and get ready for some NBA exploits, because they’re going to be, ahem, fantastic.

First of all, and maybe most important to people living in Portland, the L.A. Lakers are OUT of the playoffs and that little four-finger sign Shaq and Kobe were smugly flashing last year is dead. The three-year stranglehold the Lakers had on the league is toast. I know it’s a pipe dream, but maybe the absence of purple and gold will make this year’s NBA Finals a little more exciting and a little less predictable.

The Nets were swept by the Lakers in four games in last year’s finals. The year before, they were a basement-dwelling pushover that hadn’t made the playoffs since the early ’90s. Then, they acquired Jason Kidd and the fortunes of the Nets changed forever. He plays with an unrestricted energy, and he personally makes the Nets a contender in this year’s finals.

The Nets are on a 10-game winning streak. They’ve swept their last two series and won the last two games of their opening-round battle against the Bucks. Their running game is led by Kidd, a one-man fast break and the team starts some thunderous finishers. But they’re about to come up against something they haven’t seen for the entire playoffs: a 7-footer who can move. And Tim Duncan spells trouble for the poor Nets.

Duncan is consistent in a sleepy, puzzling way. Had he chosen yo-yoing over hoops, Duncan would have been that unassuming guy playing in the corner, quietly walking the dog and putting the baby to sleep better than anyone else, humming the theme song to “Bewitched” and drinking a Fresca. Instead, he chose basketball, so he patiently picks apart his opposition with a quiver full of bank shots, turnarounds, hooks and dunks that look straight out of the ’70s. He is averaging 25 points and 15 boards through the playoffs. He’s the reigning NBA Most Valuable Player. And in my opinion, he dooms the Nets.

Duncan is going to be too hard to guard for the Nets. He can beat almost every defender one-on-one and when he’s double-teamed, he calmly passes out to an open shooter, which the Spurs have plenty of. They went on a 23-0 run to beat Dallas in the ultimate game of the Western Conference Finals, with little-used Steve Kerr hitting four three-pointers in a row. He had barely gotten off the bench for months. And with Tony Parker, Stephen Jackson and long-range bomber Bruce Bowen, the Spurs can hit the shots Duncan sets them up with.

The Nets are a defensive machine, led by Kidd and Kenyon Martin. Opponents are scoring only 91 points a game against them in the playoffs and shooting 41 percent. Kerry Kittles can shoot, along with Kidd, who warms up on occasion to torch defenses. The Nets find ways to win, but they won’t have as easy a time against the Spurs as the Celtic and Pistons. The Spurs have only allowed 92 points per game and their opponents only shoot 41 percent. And those stats, which might make for good basketball, also make for great Valium substitutes. These games will be the antithesis of excitement. Chess matches on hardwood, that’s what we’re in for.

Although I would like to say the Nets will win, I can only say they have a chance, about the same chance as a snow angel in the fiery pits of Hades. But that, my friends, is still a chance.