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Schedule, Positional Matchups and Predictions
The San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat face off for the second year in a row in the NBA Finals. Last year, the flashy stars from South Beach prevailed over the fundamental, blue-collar team from the Lonestar State. But this year, the home court advantage is reversed, with the majority of the games being played at the AT&T Center in San Antonio.
The reigning champions had a rocky road leading up to the playoffs, entering the bracket as the No. 2 seed behind the Indiana Pacers. However, the Miami Heat have flipped a switch in the postseason, displaying a dominance and efficiency that has the sports world on the edge of its seat. The Spurs, as usual, steadily steamrolled their opponents all season with a 62-20 record. Their win mark is one of the franchise’s best record in the past 10 years and although the Spur’s big three is cumulatively 106 years old, the team is playing with a remarkable level of youth and energy.
The NBA Finals air on ABC during primetime (typically at 9 p.m. ET) and will likely register some of the highest TV ratings the NBA has ever seen. The coaches are the same and the stars are the same, but there have been some changes that may affect the outcome of the series. The NBA Finals has switched the format from a 2-3-2 setup, which was implemented in order to reduce travel issues, to a 3-2-1-1-1 format. This slight change means that the Spurs have true home court advantage this year, which could prove to be a deciding factor since these squads are so evenly matched. Bookies at Bovada list the odds of the Spurs winning at 4/5 with the Heat as the underdog at 21/20. The teams wanted to see each other again, the fans wanted it too, and the NBA gods have blessed us with a Heat-Spurs II, a showdown that should be one for the ages.
|Game 1 (in San Antonio)||Thursday, June 5th||9:00 PM|
|Game 2 (in San Antonio)||Sunday, June 8th||8:00 PM|
|Game 3 (in Miami)||Tuesday, June 10th||9:00 PM|
|Game 4 (in Miami)||Thursday, June 12th||9:00 PM|
|Game 5 (in San Antonio)*||Sunday, June 15th||8:00 PM|
|Game 6 (in Miami)*||Tuesday, June 17th||9:00 PM|
|Game 7 (in San Antonio)*||Friday, June 20th||9:00 PM|
Tony Parker continues to dazzle spectators with his quick and smooth style of play, even in his later years. There's no question that he's one of the premier guards in the NBA, one could even make the argument for Parker as the league’s best. He is, in my opinion, the most important cog in the Spurs’ well-oiled machine and plays well on both ends of the court. Parker is nursing an ankle injury that could mean problems for the Spurs if he's not 100%. A true warrior, Tony insists he's fine and will play in Game 1 so only time will tell if his body is in good enough condition to finish out the season on a high note.
The Heat have a less solid answer at the PG position, with Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, LeBron James and even Dwyane Wade taking the ball up the floor at times. Against the Pacers, Cole slowly worked his way into playing big time minutes and was highly effective against the 1 seed, averaging a +12 impact in the Heat’s wins. But in this series last year, Chalmers played the fourth most minutes on the team. Additionally, in the regular season matchups, Chalmers has been featured as the main point guard and is capable of guarding Tony Parker. Chalmers is volatile, as evidenced by his explosion against the Thunder in the 2012 NBA Finals. The most important way that Chalmers can affect the game though is on defense, since the Heat have enough scoring at other positions.
Verdict: Advantage Spurs
The Spurs are an extremely versatile team at the 2 spot, with terrific role players such as Danny Green, Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills, and Marco Bellinelli filling in from time to time. All of those guys, except Ginobili, offer a dangerous weapon off the edge: deadly 3-point shooting. Last year, Green lit up the defending champs from beyond the arc, and Popovich will do all he can to create the same shooting barrage again this year, regardless of who it comes from.
The Heat have two future Hall of Famers playing at the SG position, so they have little to fear regarding this matchup. Dwyane Wade is much healthier now than he was at this time last year, which is one of the major reasons the Spurs shouldn’t be too confident heading into the series. Ray Allen is the best shooter in the history of the NBA and he usually comes off the bench. That’s how stacked this Heat team is. As long as these two stay on the floor and play quality defensive minutes, the Heat can count on a win in this area.
Verdict: Advantage Heat
Kawhi Leonard has been developing into a quietly talented player. Whenever the Spurs’ big three decide to retire (which will never happen), Kawhi will take over and become the team’s most important contributor. He has the size and athleticism to match LeBron James on defense, which is crucial for any team that wants to beat the Heat. Guarding the King is easier said than done though, and over the course of a 7-game series, you simply aren’t going to outplay the best player in the world.
LeBron James. You see him on TV everyday. He can guard every player on the court and he can score on anyone. If he plays his best on any given night, he wins the matchup and the Heat most likely win the game. Last year in the finals, LeBron nearly averaged a triple double. After being denied the MVP award this season, James is looking to send a message to the league that the King still reins over the NBA. LeBron forced Charlotte and Brooklyn's defenders into foul trouble and the Pacers were outright overwhelmed by his greatness. Even 1st Team NBA defender Paul George couldn't contain James, which leads one to believe that Kawhi Leonard is in for a long series.
Verdict: Advantage Heat
Tim Duncan is 38 years old and he’s better than you. If you made the case for him as the best PF of all time, I’d listen, so don’t feel too bad that he’d school you and the rest of the NBA’s big men in the low post over and over again. What Duncan lacks in athleticism he makes up for in wisdom and experience. He’s won 50 or more games every season he’s been in the NBA, making him a model of consistency and the league’s golden standard of professionalism. He’s too tall for Chris Bosh and too skilled for Chris Andersen, so it’s a given that Duncan will produce during this series. The real issue will be slowing him down.
At power forward for the Heat, a couple of players can make an impact. Udonis Haslem might see some minutes but he’s too small to guard Duncan. LeBron James can shift into the 4 offensively if the Heat want to play super-small-ball, which he did for a good portion of last year’s NBA Finals. Rashard Lewis has been playing decently as of late, but ultimately one of the Heat’s biggest challenges will be finding players to matchup against the Spurs’ bigs. Bosh usually checks in at center, but this series he may find himself paired with Birdman in order to add some size to the lineup.
Verdict: Advantage Spurs
The Spurs’ weakest position is down low at center, but don’t let Tiago Splitter hear you say that. Splitter averaged 8.2 points and 6.2 rebounds this year and is probably best known for LeBron’s vicious rejection on his dunk attempt last year in the NBA Finals. Yet his size advantage (6’11) makes him a real factor in this series and a key player to watch. He may not be the most exciting athlete on the court, but if Splitter can corral a good amount of rebounds against the Heat, the Spurs may be hoisting the coveted golden ball over their heads this year.
It’s often overlooked: Chris Bosh is a great player. Playing alongside Wade and James, Bosh can sometimes be overshadowed by his more explosive counterparts. But when Bosh plays well, the Heat’s winning percentage is through the roof. No one can truly stop Tim Duncan, but if Chris Bosh gets his mid-range jumper going, the same can be said about him. Bosh has added a new facet to his game this year: the 3-pointer. If Bosh heats up from outside, he’ll force the Spurs’ big men to close out quicker on his shots. With the lane clear, LeBron and Wade will have a field day against the Spurs. Even when he plays his best basketball, Bosh is always more of a role player on this Heat team, creating space and diverting defenders away from his teammates. But this role is critical to the team’s success and Bosh seems to have gotten into a groove late in the 2014 playoffs.
Verdict: Advantage Heat
The Spurs have the best bench in basketball. Almost every player subbing in for San Antonio can knock down threes like James Jones can in a shooting contest. Manu Ginobili has the most left-handed points of all time in the playoffs, and he comes off the bench. When Boris Diaw isn’t occupied at the buffet line, he guards LeBron James surprisingly effectively. The Heat have some serviceable guards and forwards that can offer relief at times, but few of their bench players are that dependable. Rashard Lewis had a great series against the Pacers, even when he wasn’t scoring. But the biggest addition that the Heat can look to against the Spurs will be Chris “Birdman” Andersen, who brings the defending champs an intensity and an uncanny ability to block shots and finish plays that energizes the team and the fanbase. Overall, the Spurs just have too much firepower off the bench and because of their trio’s age, their role players have played valuable minutes over the course of the season that should benefit them down the stretch.
Verdict: Advantage Spurs
Gregg Popovich is the best coach in the NBA. He won the Coach of the Year award this year for stringing together 62 wins with guys who physically shouldn’t be playing basketball any longer. But, Erik Spoelstra triumphed in this matchup last year, and many critics questioned Popovich’s lineup that allowed the Heat to earn an incredible comeback win in Game 6 last year. This is Spo’s fourth finals appearance in four years, as he has mastered the art of small-ball that is taking the league by storm. You have to give him credit for resting Wade for most of this year and still making it to the NBA Finals. Still, Pop is one of the greatest coaches of all time, in any sport. It's hard to bet against that.
Verdict: Advantage Spurs
Through the 6 matchups, I have the Heat and Spurs tied 3-3. Much like this outcome, I expect the series to be extremely closely contested. I give a slight edge to the Heat because they have the best player in the world and they are peaking at the perfect time. With Tony Parker’s ankle in doubt and Wade at prime physical form, the Heat have just enough gas left in the tank to grab another championship.
Verdict: Heat in 7
What It Means For Their Legacies
There are almost too many storylines to cover heading into this year’s NBA Finals. Coach Pop is aiming to become the fifth coach in league history to register five NBA championships (he would tie Pat Riley for fifth place). Coach Spo is trying to become the fourth coach to pull off the 3-peat. The Spurs are out for revenge and hoping to solidify themselves as the best post-Jordan’s Bulls franchise. The Heat are in their fourth NBA Finals, which hasn’t been done since the mid-'80s. Duncan and James are each gunning for a Finals MVP, which would give LeBron his third straight and Duncan his fourth total, both amazing accomplishments. The loser of this series could be deprived of an opportunity to make history. This is likely the Spurs’ last shot at a championship because of age restraints, but we’ve been saying that for years. If the Heat lose, with the upcoming free agency period looming, the roster could be altered monumentally and their fantasy-team potentially dismantled. Whatever the case is, this series is a high stakes rematch that will vault the winner into the argument for the greatest dynasties of all time. But no pressure.