This should be the NBA Finals that we’ve all wanted.
Understandably, there will be some disappointment for those who clamor to see LeBron James and Kevin Durant go up against each other on the big stage. But not many can resist the lure and temptation of the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs.
How Spurs, Heat match up
» Point Guard
The Spurs have a big advantage here, with Tony Parker able to get into the lane and create whenever he wants. This was such a mismatch last year that the Heat had to play LeBron James on Parker for the second half of the series. And while that did shift the momentum, Miami coach Erik Spoelstra wants to avoid doing that again. That means Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole have to be much better defensively on Parker. If that doesn’t happen, it will be a long series for the Heat — or a short one. Advantage: Spurs.
» Shooting Guard
Dwyane Wade’s regular season conservation project has been a smashing success. Last year at this time he was a shell of himself. This year, he looks a lot like the D-Wade of old. But will that be enough? He’s going to have to chase Danny Green around, and then he’ll have to deal with Manu Ginobli. And while he does look much better, he’s still going to have to contend with two very different styles in Green and Ginobli. Advantage: Spurs.
» Small Forward
Kawhi Leonard may be a multiple all-star selection before his career is done. Still, he’s not LeBron James. In this generation, nobody is. That makes this the one big advantage for the Miami Heat, and the Heat hope LeBron can turn it into a massive, series-changing advantage. Still, Gregg Popovich was masterful in defending James last season — that is until LeBron finally figured things out in the final quarter of Game 6. Advantage: Heat.
» Power Forward
Tim Duncan is ageless. He’s still a technician in the post, still a great rebounder and passer, still a beast defensively. This spot has been a revolving door for Miami recently. Sometimes it’s Rashard Lewis. Sometimes it’s Udonis Haslem, or even Shane Battier. If the Heat use Lewis or Battier, count on Duncan moving to center against Chris Bosh a good portion of the time, so that Popovich can get another shooter on the floor. Advantage: Spurs.
Tiago Splitter is useful, plays defense, finishes plays on the interior and is a good passer. Chris Bosh is an all-star. However, Bosh isn’t good enough at this stage to impose his will on Splitter, so the advantage is muted on some levels. A lot of the time, it will be Duncan and Bosh. And when it was last season in Game 7, Duncan almost won the whole thing for the Spurs by himself. The two front court positions promise to be a game of cat and mouse between Popovich and Spoelstra. Advantage: Heat.
Miami has made its money with its depth off the bench. In this postseason alone, Norris Cole, Shane Battier and Rashard Lewis have all had their moments. Still, the Spurs are the deepest team in basketball. From Patty Mills, to Marco Belinelli, to Matt Bonner, to Ginobli, there isn’t a better group of reserves anywhere. San Antonio legitimately goes 11 deep, should Popovich choose, and he won Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals against the Thunder with Mills and Cory Joseph running the point. Advantage: Spurs.
If it weren’t for Red Auerbach, or Phil Jackson, Popovich may be considered the best coach in NBA history. He’s that good. In every area, from pregame preparation to in-game adjustments to X’s and 0’s, Popovich is elite. It says something about Spoelstra that he’s actually in the conversation. But in today’s NBA, Popovich is simply the Jedi master. Everyone else is just there to exist in his world. Advantage: Spurs.
Everything just seems to point San Antonio’s way. The Spurs are the best team in the game, have everything to play for and have desperation with their title window closing. Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich first won a championship together in 1999. It says here that they will get one 15 years after. It would — and will — be an amazing feat. Spurs in 6.
Miami at San Antonio
All games on Ch. 4
Thursday: Miami at San Antonio, 7 p.m.
Sunday: Miami at San Antonio, 6 p.m.
Tuesday: San Antonio at Miami, 7 p.m.
June 12: San Antonio at Miami, 7 p.m.
June 15: x-Miami at San Antonio, 6 p.m.
June 17: x-San Antonio at Miami, 7 p.m.
June 20: x-Miami at San Antonio, 7 p.m.
x — If necessary
When Game 1 gets underway on Thursday night, we will be seeing the two best teams in basketball. The two most fundamentally sound teams. The two teams who gave us a classic seven-game series last season. The team looking for its third consecutive title against the team looking for redemption and one last championship before riding off into the sunset.
More than that, we’ll be seeing two teams that don’t particularly like each other. In the moments following the Spurs dispatch of the Oklahoma City Thunder, timeless Tim Duncan told the media in no uncertain terms how much he and his team wanted another crack at Miami.
"We’ve got four more to win," Duncan told TNT. "We’ll do it this time."
For the normally stoic Duncan, that qualifies as a major sound bite. But it gives a peek into how devastating the loss for San Antonio was last season. The Spurs all but had the NBA title wrapped up in Game 6, before missed free-throws led to a James 3-pointer and another missed free-throw led to Ray Allen’s legendary 3-pointer.
A lost overtime and 37 points from James in Game 7 later, LeBron was holding his second consecutive NBA title trophy and garnering his second straight finals MVP.
So, will things be different this time? On the surface, yes. Unlike last year, the Spurs have home court advantage this time around. Unlike last season, the Heat won’t have Mike Miller to come in off the bench and toss 3-point daggers at the opposition. Miami — by all accounts — isn’t quite the juggernaut it has been for the past three seasons. San Antonio — mainly because of the growth of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green — is better, more well-rounded and playing with a massive chip.
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