Miami Versus San Antonio PreviewNBA Finals
Miami (66-16) vs. San Antonio (58-24)
Season series: Miami, 2-0
San Antonio can win if…the Spurs take care of the basketball, utilize their advantage in the post with Tim Duncan and break down the Heat's perimeter defense with the driving of Tony Parker/Manu Ginobili; Duncan's post ups and the Parker/Ginobili drives will create open three point shots if the Heat are forced to collapse their defense into the paint. Defensively, the Spurs must force LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to shoot contested two point jump shots.
Miami will win because…even though the Heat have some exploitable weaknesses it is difficult to fully exploit those weaknesses four times in a seven game series. LeBron James seems to have reached that rare level inhabited by only a handful of players--including Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan--who simply would not be denied multiple championships during their primes as long as they remained healthy and as long as they had a reasonable supporting cast. While Duncan deserves to be mentioned in that category, he is not in the prime of his career and thus can no longer dominate a series the way that James can.
Other things to consider: The head to head record is meaningless because both teams "rested" players during those matchups; these teams have not faced each other at full strength since the 2011 regular season. During the Eastern Conference Finals, the Indiana Pacers provided a blueprint for how to beat the Heat but the Spurs will probably not be able to bludgeon the Heat in the paint to the same extent that the Pacers did. Roy Hibbert and David West are rugged, physical players, while Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter rely more on finesse and footwork; consequently, Chris Bosh will be more comfortable physically and psychologically in this series. On the other hand, the Spurs will protect the ball much better than the Pacers did and the Spurs will execute their offense efficiently on a more consistent basis.
James made his first trip to the NBA Finals in 2007, after his fourth season; James was already a great player but he was not yet a complete player and the Spurs swept his Cleveland Cavaliers to claim their third title in a five year span. The opportunity to win a championship is motivation enough but the fact that James can become a back to back champion by beating the team that humiliated him six years ago--leaving him wide open to shoot jump shots because his perimeter touch was so erratic--adds some extra spice/historical interest to this series. As Darth Vader said to Obi-Wan Kenobi, "Now the circle is complete."
Dwyane Wade and Manu Ginobili will be the X factors for their respective teams; both players have performed erratically during the 2013 postseason and neither one is likely to play well in every game but if one of these players has a breakout game--or even a breakout half--it could tilt the balance in an otherwise evenly matched series.
Many media members have become infatuated with "advanced basketball statistics"--it is easier to just plug some numbers into an article than to analyze the sport with a high level of technical/strategic understanding--but it is interesting that Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich, the two most successful coaches in the NBA in the 2000s, both coach by feel. Jackson trained his players during practice to stay calm so that they could properly read and react to situations and he often let his players play through difficulties during games as opposed to calling a quick timeout; he, like John Wooden, felt that most of a coach's job is done during practice and that during the games it is up to the players to perform. I once asked Coach Popovich how much he incorporates basketball statistical analysis into his coaching decisions and he replied, "I would depend more on what I see and feel than on overdosing on stats." The chess match between Popovich and Erik Spoelstra will be very interesting.
The 2-3-2 Finals format favors the team that has home court advantage; at the championship level it is difficult to win three straight games, so for the Spurs to defeat the Heat they probably will need two victories in Miami: the most likely formula for a San Antonio championship is to earn a split of the first two games in Miami, win two out of three in San Antonio and then take game six in Miami. Game one winners overwhelmingly tend to win NBA playoff series and home teams win game seven roughly 80% of the time, so the Spurs would be well advised to focus on winning that first game in Miami and then making sure that the Heat do not extend the series to a seventh game. The Pacers squandered a great chance to win game one in Miami, they won three of the next five games and then they got blown out on the road in game seven. The importance of game one should not be underestimated; the Spurs will be very well rested, while the Heat just completed a grueling, physical seven game series: the Spurs may be rusty in the first half of game one but it is important for them to keep the score close and then make their move against Miami in the second half.
Physically, the Spurs may not match up quite as well with the Heat as the Pacers did but the Spurs have a lot of championship level experience so they have a very legitimate chance to win this series--but Miami has the best player plus home court advantage and those two factors are hard to overcome.
posted by David Friedman @ 2:51 AM