By: Shawn Davis
I haven’t written about the NBA playoffs thus far because I find the opening round to be too long, the second round to be anti-climactic, and the conference finals, well, let’s just say at that point I just want the “real” series to start; this series. (Plus, I have a short attention span.) This is the time for me to make my prediction, right? No, that’s coming towards the end of this piece. First I’m going to examine a few keys that will determine a champion.
The corner 3-point shot is a crucial component of both teams’ offensive attack and I’m sure it will continue for as long as this series lasts (I feel it’s going six games, minimum). In the regular season the Miami Heat – according to ESPN Stats & Information – made 309 corner 3’s while the Spurs made 261. In the postseason, the Heat have made more, 48 to 35, but the Spurs are a hair better on the percentage of makes from deep with 40.2 in comparison to the Heat’s percentage of 39. Throughout the Spurs’ four titles the corner three has been a major weapon with the likes of Bruce Bowen, Brent Barry, Michael Finley, Robert Horry and Sean Elliott firing from deep so I was a little surprised that Miami has been so prolific from distance.
Pertaining to this series, I see this shot being that more vital. With the Heat looking to spread the Spurs out to combat the size disadvantage they’ll face I see Shane Battier, Ray Allen and Mike Miller being relied upon more than they were in the conference finals versus the Indiana Pacers. If Erik Spoelstra deactivates Battier for any game this series, it could be indicative of how the Spurs are dominating on the glass so leaving him out there as a stretch-four would be a severe mismatch.
If I’m the Spurs I get DeJuan Blair heavily involved in this series. The Heat do not have a dominant shot blocker (Chris Anderson will help in that department) or stout interior defender to deter Blair from setting up camp in the paint, exclusively. For reasons kept under wraps, Blair has seen his role diminish over the last few seasons but Gregg Popovich would be wise to unleash him on the finesse frontcourt he’ll be matched up against.
LeBron James. I’m not going to sing his praises because you can get all the man-slobbery and dreamy, man-crush sentiments from the media at-large. When one team has the best player in the series, healthy, that squad usually has the edge. James is akin to a Swiss Army knife as it relates to his skill-set. On his own, he has the ability to turn this series into the all-consuming and sickening coronation that’s sure to come if Miami earns the title. Listen, James is as special a player the league has ever seen and if he plays on the level he’s been at this postseason the Heat definitely have the edge to repeat as champions. It’s tough to rationally dispute that point.
On the opposing side, Tony Parker is the premiere pick-and-roll offensive threat in the league – and I agree that he is currently the best point guard in the game (but I’ve felt he’s been the best for the last four-to-six years). A way to combat the dynamo that is James is to have the point guard match-up in your “plus” column and the Spurs have that in Parker. Average point guards give the Heat trouble on most nights and the Spurs will the supply Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers their toughest assignment this postseason. In critical moments of close games – which I expect every game to be with he lone exception being this evening; I think James and company blitz the Spurs tonight because of the long layoff – don’t be shocked to see James defending Parker. In fact, expect it to happen.
The Spurs have the Parker advantage while the Heat dress James in their jersey for their advantage. I see both players having great numbers, statistically, so the Finals will be won in other areas.
Miami hasn’t faced a team that can play as fluidly with both small and big lineups such as the Spurs. If the Spurs choose to play traditionally with Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter – as I expect them to for most of the series – the Heat will find themselves having the strategy imposed upon them. As we’ve seen over the last two years, the Heat prefer to be the dictator on the court. They want to bend the other team to their style of play – and not the other way around.
What hurts the Spurs are teams that get up the floor quickly by exploiting their transition defense before they can get it set in the half-court game. Easily, James and his crew can make this a reality with their activity in the passing lanes, crisp outlet passing and the above-the-rim artistry of James and (a healthy) Dwyane Wade. Golden State gave the Spurs fits in those areas, well; the Heat can supply migraines, seizures and heart attacks if they’re focused on defense. The Spurs can be had in this area and I expect the Heat to do their best to exploit that.
The two players that have the ability to swing the title, but are full of question marks due to their health (and underwhelming performance this postseason), are Wade and Manu Ginobili. Without question, the title swings heavily one way or another if either shooting guard dominates their counterpart. The problem for Wade though resides in the fact that he’ll also have to contend with Danny Green and Gary Neal aside from Ginobili.
Tim Duncan, the league’s greatest power forward regardless of whether he wins this title or not, has to be dominant in this series, not just good and consistent. This postseason, his numbers are: 17.8 ppg, 9.2 rpg and 1.7 blocks per game. I think he must turn back his postseason-performance clock and average 22-24 ppg, 10-12 rpg and 2 blocks to take the Larry O’ Brien trophy back to San Antonio, Texas. He can’t average a just-put-it-in-the-box score 17/9/1 and expect to win a fifth title unless Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard or someone else from their dependable nine man rotation plays above their head.
The Heat can defeat anyone in this league when they’re at their complete best – and attempting to overwhelm the Spurs is going to force them to play at such a level for the next two weeks. Chris Bosh cannot supply James with single digit scoring games (and senseless screaming like he’s killing the other team after making a jumper or two) and Wade must live on the free throw line to prevent the alien in the number six jersey from reverting into “Cleveland” mode. I think the Spurs want James in that attacking style because that means he’s limiting his all-around game for the sake of just getting buckets and that could mean a short series for those fantastic and classy Heat ticket buyers.
These Finals should be memorable no matter which team claims the title as there’s a lot at stake in terms of legacy for Duncan, James, Popovich, Spoelstra, Parker, Wade, Ginobili, etc. This time last year I went with the Thunder in six or seven – and before you kill me for that pick, NOT A PERSON on this planet saw the James Harden no-show that took place over games 2-5.
Give me the Spurs in seven exciting games.
The Heat can only beat you with pure athleticism and if the Spurs bottle some of it, protect the ball and have Parker dominate his counterpart like I expect James to do with his, the Heat fall short on depth and versatility. The Spurs can play both small and big, effectively, while the Heat only play small because of the limitations of their roster.
That’s my logic.