Which opponent would give the Utah Jazz the best chance of advancing to the NBA Finals?

The Jazz will have their hands full, no doubt, no matter what. Either one will have the home-court advantage over Utah. Both are led by players with matching MVP trophies on their respective mantles. The Jazz will be seriously lacking in the playoff experience department against either foe.

One team has the best offense in the NBA, averaging 110.2 points per game in the regular season. The other surrendered a league-low 90.1 points and has the top two vote-getters on the NBA's 2006-07 All-Defensive Team.

Here's a quick look at how the Jazz match up against the Spurs and Suns in five categories: recent history, frontline, backcourt, bench play and style of play.

RECENT HISTORY — It's no secret that the Spurs have dominated the Jazz in recent years. San Antonio, in fact, won 18 straight over Utah at one point from 2000 to 2005. The Jazz haven't won a game in San Antonio since 1999. That's a current 16-game winning streak for the Spurs over Utah in the Alamo City.

If the Jazz play the Spurs, they'll have to win at least one game in Texas to advance. Then again, this is a new, better Jazz team than in the recent past and Utah won both games in Salt Lake City against the Spurs this season.

The Jazz actually beat the Suns 3-1 in the regular season series this season — and the lone loss was late in the year when Utah was struggling and dealing with injuries.

Better for Utah based on recent history: Phoenix

FRONTLINE — Tim Duncan is a force on both ends of the court. The two-time MVP was selected to the league's All-Defensive Team for the 10th time this season. But he also gets the job done on offense. He averaged 20 points on 55 percent shooting during the regular season and is averaging 23.4 points during the playoffs. He has proven to be a tough matchup for Jazz star Carlos Boozer.

Michael Finley has been starting at forward during the playoffs and has given the team a nice scoring punch. Utah center Mehmet Okur should have an advantage on either young center the Spurs go with, Fabricio Oberto or Francisco Elson.

The Suns were a great team a year ago without star center Amare Stoudemire, who missed virtually the entire year with a knee injury. This season Stoudemire was back to pre-injury form, earning All-NBA first team honors. Add forwards Shawn Marion and Kurt Thomas, and the Suns' frontcourt is averaging 49.2 points and 27.5 rebounds per game during the playoffs.

Duncan is great, but the Suns frontline creates more matchup problems.

Better for Utah based on the frontcourt: San Antonio

BACKCOURT — Steve Nash has simply been the best basketball player on the planet the past three years. He has two MVP awards and this year's second-place showing to prove it. Jazz fans know Nash's backcourt mate well, too. Raja Bell was a fan — and Jerry Sloan — favorite during his two years in Utah due to his determination, work ethic and 3-point shooting.

San Antonio's Tony Parker is an All-Star in his own right who shoots an incredible percentage from the field for a point guard due to his ability to penetrate and get layups. He is not as physical as Golden State's Baron Davis, but he could still give Utah's Deron Williams problems. He is joined by defensive specialist/3-point shooter Bruce Bowen.

The guardlines are close, but the slight advantage goes to the team with the two-time MVP.

Better for Utah based on the backcourt: San Antonio.

BENCH PLAY: The Suns have the NBA's sixth man of the year in Leandro Barbosa, who is averaging 16.1 points in the playoffs.

The Spurs counter with former All-Star Manu Ginobili, who is averaging 14.1 points and who made huge 3-pointers down the stretch during San Antonio's Game 5 victory on Wednesday.

The Suns are also getting solid contributions from Boris Diaw — when he isn't suspended like he was for Game 5 — and James Jones. Phoenix has only been going eight players deep, however.

The Spurs have a 10-man rotation — including Robert Horry (when he's not suspended), Brent Barry and ex-Jazzman Jacque Vaughn.

The Spurs go a little deeper, but the Suns bench players are slightly better. That makes for a draw.

Better for Utah based on the bench play: even

STYLE OF PLAY: San Antonio is like Utah's first round opponent, Houston, with its halfcourt offense and defensive-minded style — only the Spurs are better than the Rockets.

Phoenix is like Utah's second-round opponent, Golden State, with its run-and-gun style on offense and pressure defense that can force plenty of turnovers — only the Suns are better than the Warriors.

The Jazz needed only five games to beat the Warriors while they needed seven to down the Rockets. For that reason, it appears the run-and-gun style opponent is better for them.

Better for the Jazz based on style of play: Phoenix.

There you have it. It's a tie — 2 1/2 categories for the Spurs, 2 1/2 categories for the Suns.

In other words, like their current series is proving, the Suns and Spurs are both outstanding teams that are pretty evenly matched.

For the Jazz to beat either one it will be a major accomplishment — and a major upset.

Then again, upsets can happen. Just ask Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks.


How the Jazz fared

            
                                                    

vs. Spurs vs. Suns

Record against 2-2 3-1

At home 2-0 1-1

On road 0-2 2-0

Points scored 89.0 108.5

Points allowed 94.8 113.0

Margin of victory 4.5 3.3

Comment on this story Margin of defeat 16.0 28.0


E-mail: lojo@desnews.com