If the Jazz's series with Golden State was fascinating because of the teams' contrasting styles and personalities, this Western Conference finals pairings is intriguing for a different reason: These teams look and play so much alike. They even seem to like each other, probably because of their shared traits.
They are not spectacular, just effective. They feature international players. Their stars are team-oriented. They make the most of their role players. Their coaches have great records, but not much celebrity status.
"We're similar, as far as the makeup," said Jazz forward Carlos Boozer.
That description covers both the structure of the teams and the personalities of the players. It's true that Spurs point guard Tony Parker is engaged to "Desperate Housewives" star Eva Longoria and is appearing in a television commercial. Even then, he's working with Jared, the formerly chubby, sandwich-eating guy, so Parker's life is not totally glamorous.
And all you need to know about San Antonio's best player is the Jazz love him. Opponents may have respected Michael Jordan and others in the old days, but I've never heard Jazz players talk about anybody the way they talk about Tim Duncan.
"One of my favorite players of all time," said forward Matt Harpring. "I hold him up to a high regard. I just really enjoy the way he plays the game of basketball. It's not flashy; you might not see him on 'SportsCenter' every night, but the things he does in the game are so key to his team winning."
Another fan: Carlos Boozer. "We're able to be friends, at the same time we're very competitive," Boozer said.
Duncan is equally complimentary of the Jazz, having predicted during the All-Star break that they would "be there right to the end."
Sure enough, here they are, joining the Spurs in the West finals that continue tonight at the AT&T Center.
Harpring's admiration for Duncan goes all the way back to when Harpring was being recruited by Wake Forest and Duncan was the host for his campus visit. After Harpring eventually signed with Georgia Tech, they competed against each other in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Boozer missed Duncan in the ACC, but joined him on the 2004 U.S. Olympic team, playing under the Spurs' Gregg Popovich, an assistant coach. Those six weeks together, with the unplanned additional bonding of a semifinal loss to Manu Ginobili's Argentina team, made them close friends.
So while Boozer is emerging as the Jazz's version of Duncan and point guard Deron Williams is their Parker, other comparisons are also readily available. Andrei Kirilenko is the Jazz's athletic, international player, sort of a Ginobili without the outside shooting ability. And if the Spurs' family has Longoria, the Jazz have Lopatova - Kirilenko's wife, Masha, a Russian pop music star.
Harpring is like Bruce Bowen, always competing to the extent that he's occasionally labeled "dirty." Derek Fisher resembles Robert Horry, in terms of being a playoff veteran with a knack for hitting big shots.
Just as certainly, there are distinctions among all those players. The overriding similarity between the teams is their approach to basketball, the reliance on fundamentals, sound strategy and execution on both ends of the floor.
The Jazz cannot, however, match San Antonio's playoff experience or the three NBA championship rings Duncan has collected since 1999. "They have jewelry that we want to get," Boozer said.
If the Jazz do win this series, that would not take away anything the Spurs have earned. It just would make the Jazz look a lot more like them. At the moment, it's still easy to tell these teams apart. But that could change.