NBA Finals Preview
Just as many folks predicted at the start of the season, or maybe the start of the playoffs, the Heat will face the Spurs in a rematch of the Finals from a year ago. The Spurs disposed of the Thunder, despite Tony Parker missing the second half and overtime of Game 6, while the Heat blew out the Pacers in Game 6 in Miami. This is going to be a tremendous series and the Spurs will be looking for revenge after taking a dagger from Ray Allen last year.
Tony Parker vs. Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole should be a battle that Parker easily wins. However, his left ankle injury could slow him down, although he is expected to play in Game 1 on Thursday. The Heat would probably be more effective if they’d just give the starting job to Cole, but as long as Parker is healthy, he should be the best point guard on the court, by a mile.
Dwyane Wade vs. Manu Ginobili and Danny Green is pretty much a toss-up. Wade has been Miami’s second best player in these playoffs, averaging 18.7 points in 15 games, and is back to playing at an All-Star level. Ginobili spent much of his time running the point after Parker got hurt on Saturday, but hit just 4-of-14 shots and 1-of-7 3-pointers in the overtime thriller. Of course, his one 3-pointer was a shot heard round the world that helped force overtime. Wade has looked quite healthy over the last few weeks and if he stays that way, the Heat should have the advantage at this position.
I love Kawhi Leonard and he might be the best young player in the league, but LeBron James wins at small forward against all comers. He’s averaging 27.1 points in the playoffs, which is exactly what he averaged during the regular season, along with 6.8 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.8 steals, 1.4 3-pointers, and is shooting 56 percent from the field in the playoffs. The Heat can only go as far as LeBron will take them. And while the Spurs want revenge, LeBron wants to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke.
Tim Duncan vs. Udonis Haslem, Rashard Lewis and Chris Andersen just isn’t fair. If Greg Oden was actually healthy we’d get to see more of Duncan vs. Chris Bosh, but the Heat simply need Bosh at center. Duncan is four years older than Lewis, but somehow still looks like he’s in his prime. I’m not sure there’s a matchup in the entire league that wouldn’t favor Duncan in the playoffs and he should have a field day against the Heat. He averaged 23.0 points against them in the regular season, which was his highest mark against any team, to go along with 7.0 rebounds, a steal and a block.
Chris Bosh should have an edge over Tiago Splitter, but Bosh hasn’t really played all that well this postseason. He did get it turned around in his last three games against the Pacers though, scoring 20 or 25 points in each of them after scoring just nine points in each of the first three games of the series. Splitter, on the other hand, knows his role and does his job for the Spurs, but he’s just not a focal point on offense. He’s scored in single digits in nine straight games and grabbed more than eight boards in just one of them. The edge goes to Bosh on the offensive end, while Splitter is probably a better defender than Bosh. And it will be interesting to see how the Spurs defend Bosh, as he tends to linger around the 3-point line more than bang with the big boys down low. Splitter came off the bench in favor of Matt Bonner in Games 5 & 6 against the Thunder, so it will be interesting to see if he’s back in the starting unit against the Heat.
Gregg Popovich is the master, in my opinion. It doesn’t matter who is in the game, the Spurs still produce at a high level and had the best record in the NBA this season. Erik Spoelstra has done a wonderful job of managing egos and getting to the Finals for the fourth straight year. The Heat are going for a Three-peat and Spoelstra’s team might get it, but any time Popovich is coaching, the Spurs get the edge in this category.
The Heat don’t have much of a bench, outside of Andersen, Shane Battier and Norris Cole, and I doubt we see much of Oden this series, if at all. The Spurs got a great performance out of Boris Diaw in Game 6 (26 points) against the Thunder, while Patty Mills, Marco Belinelli and Ginobili are all capable of big things on a nightly basis.
While my head tells me the Spurs are going to put it all together and avenge last year’s devastating loss to the Heat, I’m going with Miami here. I picked them to win it all at the beginning of the playoffs and I’m not going to jump ship and bet against LeBron. However, the Spurs have revenge on their minds, have the best coach in the world, a deep bench and all the tools to slow down the Heat’s Big 3. This should be a heck of a series, and I am going to take the Heat in seven games. Which would mean they would have to beat the Spurs in San Antonio in Game 7. And that, as you know, is a very tall task.
Enjoy the Finals!