SAN ANTONIO — The matchup: Utah vs. San Antonio, a repeat of last season's NBA Western Conference finals.

The real battle to watch, though, on the contained-within-card of tonight's ESPN-televised presentation: Deron Williams vs. Tony Parker, two young point guards out to make a point.

One, Parker, has NBA All-Star Game experience, not to mention his NBA championship jewelry. The, other, Williams, would love to have both — but also has profound respect for Parker and his game.

"He's definitely one of the fastest guys in the NBA," said Williams, a guest at Parker's summer wedding in France to "Desperate Housewives" actress Eva Longoria.

"He understands the game," Williams added. "He's a smart player. He knows where the ball needs to go, and he gets it there, whether it's pick-and-roll or whatever. He's one of those guys that can just take over if he has to, if things are going wrong."

Parker is averaging 20.8 points and 6.8 assists per game heading into tonight, despite battles with a persistently sore ankle.

Williams is averaging 19.8 points, and his assists average of 8.9 per game ranks fourth in the NBA behind only Phoenix's Steve Nash (11.8), New Jersey's Jason Kidd (10.4) and Chris Paul of New Orleans (9.9).

It's looking more and more, meanwhile, like the other potentially compelling individual matchup in tonight's game — power forward Tim Duncan vs. power forward Carlos Boozer, both All-Star Game selections last season — will not be.

Duncan is hobbled by a sprained right ankle that was sustained last Sunday and that kept him out of Wednesday's win over Dallas.

The San Antonio Express-News reported Friday that the two-time NBA MVP won't play tonight: "Even though Duncan returned to practice Thursday, (Spurs coach Gregg) Popovich would prefer to keep him out of harm's way for one more game. Under the current timetable, the Spurs expect to get their All-Star forward back Tuesday at Golden State, nine days after he sprained his ankle against Portland. In the meantime, they will steel themselves to face the Jazz ... without him."

Said Parker to the Express-News: "Timmy is our franchise, our best player. It's nice to know we can step up without him."

Unless things unexpectedly change, Francisco Elson is likely to start in Duncan's place tonight.


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