Thursday, June 6, 2013
The old Big Three versus the new Big Three. The Spurs big three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobli are three for three in NBA Finals. The Heat's big three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh are one for two and looking to repeat as champions. The Spurs are back in the Finals for the first time since 2007, and for the first team this group is facing the Eastern Conference's #1 seed in the championship. San Antonio hasn't played in a week and a half, after sweeping the Grizzlies in four. They have been dominant in the playoffs, winning twelve of their fourteen games. Miami is coming off a physical, grueling seven game series with the Indiana Pacers. Will the younger team be too beat up, while the older, veteran team will feel rested? Or will it work the opposite way, where the Heat will remain firing on all cylinders, while the Spurs look rusty?
The most critical player in this series is someone you probably wouldn't think of, Spurs SF Kawhi Leonard. It will be Leonard's responsibility to try to guard LeBron James. Leonard won't be the only one who guards James, but he will get the bulk of the responsibility. Now, you don't really guard James, as his size and strength make that impossible, but you can try to slow him down a bit and not allow him to drive the lane at will. Leonard is a strong defender and will give James a lot more problems on defense than the Pacers Paul George was able to. James saved the Heat against Indiana when Wade and Bosh could do nothing. If Wade and Bosh struggle like that again, it may not be a slam dunk that James can dominate this series, like he did against Indiana. Another interesting matchup battle will be what the Heat do to guard Parker. Parker was unconscious against the Grizzlies and you figure going straight up against Mario Chalmers would give the Spurs a major advantage. I expect the Heat to throw James on Parker late in games, as they have done in the past against electric point guards, such as the Bulls Derrick Rose. Backup point guards are Gary Neal for the Spurs and Norris Cole for the Heat. Both provide pretty steady play off the bench, and while obviously not as good as the guys in front of them, they are at least serviceable. At shooting guard the Heat have Wade and Ray Allen, while the Spurs start Danny Green and bring Manu Ginobli off the bench. Green has earned that starting role by playing good defense and hitting his shots. Green is a 45% shooter and a 43% shooter from three point land. When him and Allen are on the court you may just see them trade three pointers. It didn't get talked about much because the Spurs swept the series, but Ginobli did not play very well. Now some of that can be attributed to having one of the league's best defenders, Tony Allen on him. Wade is not as good a defender and is also hobbled with injuries. Wade stepped up his play in Game 7 but for most of these playoffs he has been a non-entity. It will be interesting to watch to see what kind of series he has in the Finals, and if he can find his offensive groove a bit more.
The Heat's lack of size really came back to bite them in the Pacers series. Against the Spurs it will be a bit of an issue but not nearly as big as one, no pun intended. Obviously, Duncan is a fantastic player and Udonis Haslem and the Birdman Chris Andersen will have their hands full with him. But beyond Duncan, none of the Spurs other bigs are that imposing. Tiago Splitter can block some shots but he isn't a presence on the boards. Boris Diaw, is a decent defender, but not someone that can change a series. It is mystifying to me how DaJuan Blair has fallen out of favor with Popovich. Maybe Pop will give him some more playing time in this series to take advantage of the Heat's lack of size. The Heat's Shane Battier started losing minutes as the Conference Finals went one and it is kind of hard to see what his role will be in this series. Maybe when Matt Bonner is on they can stick Battier on him, as Bonner isn't very athletic and really just a threat from three point range. Bosh had a terrible series against Indiana, but this series sets up nicely for him. If he wants to, I think he can battle Splitter inside and not have to merely settle for jumpers. Bosh has no excuse to struggle in this series, and he needs to definitely make more of an impact on the glass playing a Spurs team that isn't a strong rebounding team.
The 2-3-2 format is employed for the NBA Finals and is a huge part of this series. The team with homecourt advantage is basically guaranteed of winning the series if they go into Game 6 up 3-2. It is next to impossible for a road team to win the last two games on their opponent's home court. I think that rather than looking rested, the Spurs will look rusty in Game 1 and the Heat will win comfortably. In Game 2, the Spurs will have their legs back and will knock off Miami to tie the series up. It is in San Antonio where I think the Heat will take control of the series by winning two out of three in San Antonio. That will set up Game 6 in Miami, where the Heat will close things out, with LeBron James once again winning Finals MVP. While I think the Spurs are a better team than the Pacers, matchup wise, they are much more favorable for Miami to face than Indiana was. Their advantages, such as having Parker at point, can be mitigated by Miami, who can put James on him. I don't buy Splitter or Diaw as being difference makers like Roy Hibbert and David West were, which will allow Bosh to have a much better series. The Spurs would be adding another championship had the Pacers advanced, but against Miami, I don't think they have the players needed to knock off the Heat. LeBron will take home his second straight title and all the talk next season will be about the Heat going for a three-peat.
Prediction: Heat over Spurs, 4-2