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Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Miami Versus San Antonio Preview

NBA 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.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:51 AM

18 comments

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18 Comments:

At Wednesday, June 05, 2013 10:54:00 AM, Blogger Awet M said...

The Heat is no longer invincible. Plus the Spurs have the necessary discipline, experience, resourcefulness, depth and talent to beat them.

They won't fumble the ball away like the Pacers. Therefore, there will be more shots for the Spurs, and less easy fastbreak buckets for the Heat.

The Spurs' quick and coordinated ball movement will capitalize on every blunder or pause. The Heat like to blitz high screen & rolls, and the Spurs will burn that.

If the Heat fall back on man to zone D, the Spurs will stretch that with 3 point bombers, opening up empty spaces. They have 7 guys who hit over 39% from 3 point land.

Duncan & Splitter will help control the boards. Plus Duncan, while he did most of his damage from the high and left post, he'll be posting up Bosh, or Haslem. TD still has enough to abuse Bosh's interior D, and is long enough to score over Haslem, and will trick Birdman into foul trouble.

People say Hibbert was a tougher load down low, but they forget he was a horrible passer out of there. Not a problem for Duncan.

Parker's savvy, accuracy on pull up jumpers, and relentless penetration and great finishing ability makes him a far more dangerous PG than anyone else alive.

Nice, but how can they defend LBJ?
1. double him the minute he gets the ball beyond 3 point land. Force the others to take/make big shots. If Wade cannot rediscover his game from Game 7 of East finals, the Heat will struggle.
2. Slow him down with a single guy (Leonard or Diaw) and give him 30 points, but shut down the Heat teammates.
3. Induce him to drive right, then send help on weakside to stop those spin moves. Only one big, and only one show by a wing. Send too many guys, he'll find open guys on the corner.
4. Let LBJ shoot from the perimeter. He's better now, and that will let them win a game or 2. But that'll freeze out his teammates, and they'll be less energetic on defense.

Likely the Spurs will use a combination of the above 4 options.

If the Spurs need less than 2 games to figure out the Heat, they'll win in less than 7 games.

 
At Wednesday, June 05, 2013 11:28:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Pacers had no bench players that could be a big help. Not even counting Ginobili, Diaw and Cory Joseph are very competent, Bonner and Neal could be deadly for a game or two (but history says they disappear in the playoffs). Miller was deadly against OKC last finals.

On the other hand, benches have less impact in the playoffs.

 
At Wednesday, June 05, 2013 1:54:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Awet:

I don't think that the Heat were ever "invincible," at least in the playoffs; they lost to the Mavericks in the 2011 Finals, they trailed Boston 3-2 in the 2012 playoffs and they needed seven games to defeat the Pacers. That said, it is difficult to beat the Heat four times in seven games, particularly since James' mental game is much stronger than it was in Cleveland; if James' mental game had been this strong three or four years ago then he would have led the Cavs to at least one title.

 
At Wednesday, June 05, 2013 2:41:00 PM, Anonymous rosen said...

I agree with Charley Rosen's prediction. Spurs in seven.

http://hoopshype.com/columns/rosen/why-the-spurs-can-win

 
At Wednesday, June 05, 2013 3:13:00 PM, Blogger Awet M said...

Right, over the last 3 postseasons, the Miami Heat certainly weren't utterly invincible - but I meant after this season, after that 27 game winning streak, after breezing through the first two rounds with a single loss.

Then a 7 game slugfest with a 49 win team? Invincible aura gone poof.

 
At Wednesday, June 05, 2013 4:24:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Rosen:

Charley Rosen makes some reasonable points about how the Spurs could win--and I made similar points in my article--but I don't think that the Spurs will win. It is easy to put a good anti-Heat plan on paper but it is much harder to execute that plan on the court four times in seven games.

 
At Wednesday, June 05, 2013 4:27:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Awet:

In your first comment you should have made it clear that most of your analysis was simply taken almost verbatim from Charley Rosen's article. I don't plagiarize other writers and I don't want my comments section filled with plagiarism, either.

 
At Wednesday, June 05, 2013 7:37:00 PM, Anonymous JLK1 said...

This is a fascinating series on paper. I expect to see quite a few "experts" picking the Spurs, though if you go by the oddsmakers the Heat are significant favorites.

If there has been one constant in this playoffs it's that commentators have short memories. The Pacers/Heat series made the Heat look more vulnerable than they really are. The Spurs sweep of the overvalued but entertaining Grizzlies has given them a boost in perception. There are major differences between the Pacers and Spurs (age, system, bench quality, etc.), and the Spurs have not faced a team like Miami in the playoffs.

I've seen some make the argument that the Spurs won't suffer the same turnover problems as the Pacers, but the Spurs actually committed turnovers at an above league average rate in the playoffs and during the regular season, and the Heat are excellent at forcing turnovers. The Spurs will likely fare better than the Pacers, but it's a stretch to say that they'll escape Miami's swarming defense unscathed.

The Heat like to get out in transition and delayed transition, but in accordance with the Popovich system the Spurs place a high value on getting back on defense very quickly rather than crashing the offensive glass. This is a major difference between their system and that of the Pacers. The Pacers are an excellent offensive rebounding team, which caused problems for Miami. This difference will reduce the large rebounding gap that plagued Miami in the conference finals.

I think Miami will have a much easier time playing small against the Spurs, in comparison to the Pacers who largely forced Miami to play traditional lineups with Bosh and Andersen/Haslem. In this series the Heat will have an easier time getting Battier, Ray Allen, and other shooters onto the floor at small forward. Kawhi Leonard is a nice player but he won't be able to repeat what Paul George did in the previous round. The Heat are an easy pick.

 
At Wednesday, June 05, 2013 9:19:00 PM, Anonymous st said...

I agree with Rosen. Spurs in seven.

Meanwhile, watch this video. Classic Pop

http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=9343978

 
At Wednesday, June 05, 2013 10:43:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

JLK1:

I agree with most of the points that you made but I would not conclude that the Heat "are an easy pick." This will be a competitive series and the Spurs have a chance to win but I agree with you that the Heat should be considered the favorite.

 
At Thursday, June 06, 2013 6:53:00 AM, Blogger Awet M said...

Apologize for paraphrasing that article, but going by experience, I didn't want to cite Rosen, and have you commit another ad hominem (oh, he's a shill for Phil Jackson and will always pick against Pat Riley teams!).

Won't do so again.

 
At Thursday, June 06, 2013 2:44:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Awet:

The commenter Vednam has sometimes criticized Rosen here but I have not committed an ad hominem attack against Rosen (or anyone else); in fact, I have often said that Rosen is one of my favorite NBA writers.

More importantly, I have zero tolerance for plagiarism. Zero.

 
At Thursday, June 06, 2013 6:05:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...




Marcel

Ive been predicting for ten years that Lebron James would win multiple titles hes too good. Many have doubted me but its about to be true. Spurs gon get swept or win a game the heat is alot better version of warriors. Wit athlecism and speed unlike the warriors they have the patience and veteran leader ship to beat the spurs. Indiana had too rugged big guys that both at least hibbard had career series. Splittee Duncan is finesse so chris bosh will be bigger factor and so will wade paul george and stephenson are young and,athletic. Giniobili and green are not so idk why everyone picking spurs or some is. Plus the lebron factor,as well.


David im calling u nostrafriedman like nostradamus u got twelve out of fourteen series right or thirteen out of fourteen did u pick pacers over knicks. U been on point this year

 
At Thursday, June 06, 2013 6:37:00 PM, Anonymous st said...

By the way, Dr. J has picked the Spurs to win this series.

 
At Thursday, June 06, 2013 6:51:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi David,

This is Vednam.

My criticism of Charley Rosen is based mostly on the fact that he seems to have no problem lying if it suits the agenda he has against certain individuals. As I pointed out several years ago, for instance, Rosen's account of the 1969 NBA Finals (in his book on the 1971-72 Lakers) is wildly inaccurate (and obviously made-up to support his portrayal of Wilt Chamberlain as a selfish loser). I don't deny that Rosen is a knowledgable writer when he wants to be. But it's horrible for a man who some portray as a respected basketball historian to blatantly lie. It's even worse when you consider the weight people give to guys like Rosen when it comes to accounts of the NBA in the 60s and 70s (considering the lack of video footage available). If nobody calls people like him out, they will be able to literally rewrite history. Just as you have no tolerance for plagiarism, I do not think there should be any tolerance for writers lying in such a way.

Anyway, back to the main topic of the post. I agree with your pick. I think that at the highest level of NBA competition, it comes down to the star players and who can take over when the game is up for grabs. Miami has LeBron James, and that will make the difference.

I've been skeptical in recent years of San Antonio's ability to contend for a title mainly because, given Tim Duncan's decline, they do not have a true superstar. I think they were able to get to the Finals this year mainly because of the lack of competition in the west (due to their main rivals being crippled by injuries). Some stat guru types (and their cronies) have been pointing out how Tim Duncan's per-36-minutes numbers are as good as they were in his prime. The reality is that, while Duncan is still a very good player and it is impressive he's playing at this level so late in his career, he is nowhere close to the player he was in 2007. He doesn't demand the same attention from defenses and can't take over like he used to. Maybe Duncan can turn back the clock for just a few games, like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did in the 1985 Finals. But based on Duncan's playoff performances in the last 6 years, I think it's highly unlikely.

I suppose it is possible that the Spurs could get just enough superstar-level performances between their Big 3 to capture the title. But I feel much more certain about what the Heat will get from LeBron and I expect the Heat to win in 6.

 
At Friday, June 07, 2013 6:06:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

Just because you have been predicting something for 10 years does not mean that it is going to happen but I am not going to make snap judgments after just one game. Whatever happens in this series, James would have already won multiple titles if he had not quit multiple times.

Thank you for noticing my prediction record so far! The only series that I have been wrong about is Golden State-Denver, so at worst I will finish 13-2 (if the Spurs beat the Heat). My prediction percentage prior to this year was .700 but this is my best season yet, beating out 2007 and 2008 (12-3 both times).

 
At Friday, June 07, 2013 6:08:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

ST:

Did Dr. J pick the Spurs or did he say he was rooting for the Spurs? I know that on Inside the NBA he said that the Spurs are his favorite team other than the 76ers and I know that in general he likes the former ABA teams.

 
At Friday, June 07, 2013 6:14:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Vednam:

It's good to hear from you again. I did not mean to put words in your mouth; I just thought that Awet was thinking of you, not me, in terms of anti-Rosen comments here.

I enjoy reading Rosen's analysis of basketball strategy and his skill set evaluations of players past and present; I do not always agree with his opinions and you are right that, at times, his work as a historian is unreliable.

Regarding the 1969 Finals, even the players who participated in the game and the writers who covered the game do not agree about all of the particulars of the feud between Chamberlain and VBK. I don't know if it is fair to say that Rosen lied or if it would be more accurate to say that he offered a biased/tendentious account (I don't have a copy of that book handy and I don't recall off the top of my head what specifically Rosen said that you are disputing).

I think that Duncan is playing better this year than he has in quite some time, though I agree with you that he is not the same player he was in 2007. The Spurs, like the Pacers, have the necessary elements to beat the Heat but it remains to be seen if the Spurs can beat them four times in seven games.

 

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