Standing O Sports

NBA Finals: San Antonio Spurs vs. Miami Heat Preview and Prediction

courtesy: Sportsspyder.com

They’re baaaaaaacckkk.

Rarely do teams make back-to-back NBA Finals appearances, and it’s even more rare – first time since 1998 – to have the same Finals matchup in consecutive years, but that’s exactly what the NBA world has this year. The Miami Heat proved for a fourth straight season that they’re the class of the Eastern Conference and the San Antonio Spurs outlasted the rest of the dogs in the West. Tim Duncan said the Spurs wanted a chance at revenge, and now they have their shot. LeBron James and company are out join the elite company of teams that have three-peated in NBA history.

The Heat waltzed through the Eastern Conference, making light work of Charlotte and Brooklyn before breaking a little sweat against Indiana. The toughest series for the Spurs was its first round matchup against Dallas which went seven games. The Spurs made Portland look like a junior varsity team and were able to handle the Thunder in six games.

This is built versus. This is the original “Big 3” versus the new “Big 3”. This is revenge versus validation. This is the San Antonio Spurs versus the Miami Heat and this is the NBA Finals.

Here’s my official preview and prediction for the 2014 NBA Finals.

For the Spurs to Win

Tony Parker (courtesy: woodlandpost.com)

Tony Parker
(courtesy: woodlandpost.com)

More often than not, the Spurs play perfect offensive basketball. They move the basketball, they cut without the ball, they always throw the extra pass, they feed the bigs, they space the floor, they attack the rim and they work as a unit to get the best shot possible on each possession. If San Antonio is going to exact revenge and hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy at the end of the series, they have to play like that for 48 or more minutes every game. More often than not has to turn into always, because the Spurs’ defense is going to struggle to stop the Heat’s high-powered, small-ball offense.

Tony Parker is the Spurs’ biggest advantage in this series. With all due respect to Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole, neither of them is on the same level as Parker. Parker needs to live in the paint this series and either finish himself or draw the defense in and kick it to the shooter in the corner. He’s the only Spur that has the athletic advantage – Parker may not be as athletic but he’s impossible to stay in front of – over his on-paper matchup. Ginobili and Leonard are crafty, but Wade and James are two of the better perimeter defenders in the league. Duncan is still an effective post scorer, but he’s not capable of man-handling Bosh in the post on a nightly basis anymore. Matt Bonner…we’ll he doesn’t have an athletic advantage over any NBA player. Parker has to not only create for himself but create shots for his teammates too.

San Antonio has to make a conscience effort to go at Rashard Lewis and Shane Battier when they’re on the court. If Battier is guarding Boris Diaw, the Spurs offense has to be run through him on the block. If Lewis is guarding a perimeter player, that mismatch has to be taken advantage of. Diaw is one of the x-factors in this series. He doesn’t get nearly enough credit for what he does on offense and he’ll be matched up with LeBron James at times defensively. He did a relatively good job staying in front of James last year until James figured out how to blow past him in Games 6 & 7.

Gregg Popovich likes his team to play at a fast pace, but that plays right into Miami’s hand. The Spurs need to slow down in this series because they’re the more efficient half-court offensive team. The Spurs excel in half-court situations. The Heat excel in the open court. Limiting Miami’s transition opportunities will go a long way in helping San Antonio capture the NBA Title.

The Spurs defensive strategy against Oklahoma City was brilliant. San Antonio sagged off every Thunder player not named Russell or Kevin and made every shot either one of them take difficult. That same defensive strategy doesn’t work against Miami though because of the shooters the Heat can put on the floor. Sag off Ray Allen, Lewis, or Chalmers and it’s going to be three-pointer after three-pointer. Instead, San Antonio should play the passing lanes and force LeBron and Wade to beat them single-handily. The Heat are at their best when everyone is getting in on the scoring action. They’re not nearly as effective when it’s a two man show.

For the Heat to Win

LeBron James (courtesy: verysmartbrothas.com)

LeBron James
(courtesy: verysmartbrothas.com)

The tempo of the games is more crucial to Miami’s success than it is to San Antonio. The Heat are the best team in the NBA at converting open court opportunities, and by a large margin. Miami is the more athletic team in this series so any opportunity they have to run needs to be capitalized on.

Miami’s “Big 3” needs to play well if a three-peat is in the cards, but it’s Miami’s role players who are the key to this series. LeBron James is LeBron James and he’s going to chip in at least 25 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists per night. That’s just what he does. Dwyane Wade looks like he’s found the fountain of youth right now and he’s good for about 20 points a game too. Bosh’s scoring wasn’t vital against an offensively challenged team like Indiana, but it’s imperative he chips in at least 15 points per game this series against an offensive juggernaut like San Antonio. Those three players are all perennial All-Stars though, so their success is expected.

It’s the other guys who will determine whether or not Miami accomplishes the three-peat. Ray Allen, Norris Cole, Mario Chalmers, Chris Andersen, and even Rashard Lewis have played extremely well throughout the postseason. Allen is automatic from behind the arc, Cole and Chalmers hit timely shots and play some of the best on-ball defense in the league, Andersen provides Miami a rim protector and a rebounder and Lewis proved he can still stroke the three-ball in Game 5 against Indiana. If San Antonio plays the same defensive scheme they played in last year’s finals – which was very similar to the scheme they played against OKC – these role players are going to get plenty of chances to take and make big shots. When they’re connecting on their perimeter jumpers, the defense parts like the Red Sea for LeBron and Wade. If they’re not and San Antonio can pack their defense in the paint, Miami’s offense will struggle.

Kawhi Leonard is by far the Spurs most athletic defender and he’ll likely be matched up against James or Wade. Whichever one he isn’t guarding has to be in all-out attack mode. In the Western Conference Finals, Durant’s and Westbrook’s offensive numbers were significantly lower when being guarded by Leonard than they were when being guarded by anyone else. Leonard has the length, quickness, and strength to at least corral both of these future Hall-of-Famers, but no one else on San Antonio does.

Ball pressure is key defensively for Miami in this series. With the exception of Tony Parker, the current Spurs roster is made up of “stand still” players. Being a “stand still” player means they’re significantly better catching-and-shooting than they are taking their man off the dribble. Manu Ginobili can create from himself, but he’s not as quick a foot as he once was. Danny Green, Matt Bonner, Boris Diaw, Marco Belinelli are deadly as spot up shooters but their efficiency takes a major dip when they’re forced to put the ball on the ground. Miami’s perimeter defenders need to close out hard and force them to make a play off the dribble. Intense on-ball pressure can also force the Spurs to reset mid-possession.

Prediction

courtesy: Ibttimes.com

courtesy: Ibttimes.com

I honestly think that we’re about to watch one of the all time great series in NBA history. Both the Heat and the Spurs are playing great basketball right now and are clearly the two best teams in the league. The Spurs are a little better this year than they were last year and the Heat are a little bit worse than they were a year ago.

Although the NBA is a star driven league, I have a feeling this series is going to come down to the role guys. Which supporting cast will come through and play better, especially on the road. For my money, I’d take Miami’s supporting cast over San Antonio’s by the slightest margin.

If San Antonio can match Miami’s small-ball lineup, the Heat are in serious trouble. The issue – no team in four years has been able to play small with the Heat.

Heat in 7

Who do you think win’s the NBA Finals – Miami or San Antonio? Leave it below.


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