After nearly a month of playoff action, the finals are set and most NBA fans would say that this is the matchup they would most like to see. Last season, the Heat and Spurs played one of the greatest finals of all-time. This year’s finals should be as compelling because the storylines are even more enticing and many believe that the teams are evenly matched.
Why the Miami Heat will win?
They have the best player in the world and the two best players in the series. If the Heat are going to win this series, both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade must play well and continue their great postseason. Although the fatigue of playing in the last three finals and the Olympics has visibly diminished LeBron’s energy, he is averaging 27.1 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and 1.8 steals per game while shooting 56% from the field. During the postseason, LeBron has differentiated the games where he must go all out and defeat his opponent verses the games when he can relax and allow his teammates to shoulder the load. During the games that LeBron has tried his hardest, the Heat have won every game and most of them have not even been close.
The major difference between last year’s Heat team and this year’s team is the consistent performances from Dwyane Wade. Last year, Wade looked like a shell of his former self throughout the playoffs and it seemed like we would never see the same aggressive Wade again. However, this year, Wade’s knees have stayed healthy and he is averaging 3 more points per game and shooting 6% higher from the field, including 15% higher from three. The two have shown throughout the postseason that they have the capability to take over tight games and win.
Besides LeBron and Wade, another key for the Heat will be their ability to hit threes. James and Wade are two of the best slashers and passers in the history of basketball, which leaves shooters, like Ray Allen, Norris Cole, Shane Battier, Rashard Lewis, Mario Chalmers, and James Jones, wide open for three. If they can shoot a high percentage from three, they will force the Spurs to play “small ball”, which will play into the advantage of the Heat. This postseason, the Heat have shot 40% for three and they must continue to shoot a high percentage in order to win.
Why the San Antonio Spurs will win?
They want to avenge their loss to the Heat in last year’s final and they have a better overall team than the Heat. Over the past 17 seasons, the Spurs have been the most consistent team in the league because of their Hall of Fame head coach, top ten all time player, and the willingness to pass and play like a team. Although the Spurs have a “Big Three” of their own, Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili, they are really the “Big Seven” because seven of their players play more than 24 minutes per game, but none over 32 minutes per game.
The biggest advantage for the Spurs is their bench, ability to pass the ball, and size. During the series against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the difference between the two teams was the performances from the bench players. If the Spurs are going to win this series, the bench must play a huge role. Although they do not need Boris Diaw to score 26 points or Ginobili to average over 20 for the series, the bench must shoot threes at a high percentage and take advantage when LeBron or Wade is on the bench.
Although Tony Parker is the only Spur who can consistently break down opposing defenses, the schemes that Pop devises and player’s ability to see open cutters or men near the basket allows them to convert easy buckets. Unlike the Heat’s big men, Boris Diaw, Tiago Splitter, and Tim Duncan are capable passers. Although the big men need to look for open shooters, they must dominate the Heat down low if they are going to win the series. The Heat like to play small lineups with Bosh at the five with LeBron, Wade, Lewis, and Cole. When the Heat put these five on the field, Duncan and/or the other big man must take advantage of their matchup with Chris Bosh. Although Bosh is a capable rim defender, Duncan and Splitter have significant advantages in terms of weight and size.
The duo will need to score efficiently and punish the Heat on the glass or the Heat will hit too many threes. Similar to the Heat, the Spurs bench and role players must knock down threes and spread the floor. Last year, the emergence of Danny Green and Gary Neal almost led the Spurs to a title. This year, Green, Patty Mills, Matt Bonner, and Marco Belinelli must step up and hit threes, so Duncan and Parker have room to operate in the paint.
Miami Heat’s X-Factor: Chris Bosh
Each year that Bosh has been with the Heat his scoring and rebounding numbers have slowly dropped. Throughout his time in Miami, Bosh has slowly transformed from a dominant big man in the paint to a more finesse player that shoots threes. When Bosh has played aggressive and well, the Heat have been nearly unbeatable. If Bosh can shoot the three at a high percentage, he will pull the big men away from the basket and allow James and Wade to drive in the lane. During the last three games, Bosh has averaged over 23 points and 8 rebounds per game. During the three games, the Heat won two and almost beat the Pacers when LeBron scored only 7 points. Bosh will want to avenge his game 7 performance from last season when he did not score and grabbed only 7 rebounds. If Bosh has a big series and the Heat win the series, LeBron will have more confidence to stay with Bosh and the Heat this offseason.
San Antonio Spurs’ X-Factor: Manu Ginobili
Manu Ginobili’s performance during last season’s final is the reason why the San Antonio Spurs did not claim their fifth ring. Last year, Manu averaged 11.6 points, 4.3 assists, and 2.1 rebounds while shooting only 43% from the field. During the series, Ginobili scored in the single digits 4 times, looked lost for most of series, and averaged nearly 3 turnovers per game, including 8 in Game 6. Ginobili has played better this postseason, averaging 15.2 points per game while shooting 50% from the field during the series against the Thunder. If Parker is not at 100%, Ginobili will be called upon to be a facilitator and generate offense for the Spurs. Like many of the Spurs, Ginobili has the ability to shoot and pass at a high level. Manu is an incredible competitor and will be determined to avenge his horrid performance. Manu is the heart of the team and needs to have a big series in order to claim another title.
Prediction: Heat in 7
Similar to last year’s series, the series should go to seven because they are evenly matched. However, I do not see LeBron losing a chance to win his third straight championship in a game seven. Although the Spurs will be determined to enact revenge for their loss, D-Wade and LeBron have the same intensity and tenacity to achieve greatness. While Wade wants to continue adding rings in hope of passing Kobe on the all-time list, LeBron cannot waste chances like this if he wants to reach seven rings and pass Michael as the best player of all-time.
Like Wade and LeBron, Duncan hopes to add to his ring collection in order ascend on the all-time rankings list. Although Duncan is already the best power forward to play the game, another ring will enhance his claim as one of the best big men of all time as he would pass Shaq with 5 rings. Along with Duncan, Pop heightens his argument as one of the top five coaches of all time.
Pics and Stats from ESPN.com