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Yes, that’s right, the same team that was taken to the full seven games by a pesky Indiana squad is going to switch gears and take four out of six from San Antonio—a team fresh off a sweep of the Grizzlies. You heard it here first.
Why? Momentum can be a fickle thing and each series has a life of its own. The Heat were rolling until the Pacers came to town, but who says they can’t get hot again? The Spurs looked vulnerable against an undermanned Golden State squad in round two before prevailing in six before promptly sweeping the Grizzlies.
In any case you have to be very good just to reach the finals so let’s look at the overall matchup, beginning with the starting lineups.
Point guard: Tony Parker versus Mario Chalmers—It really isn’t a mystery that Parker should have his way opposite Chalmers.
Parker, at 31, is in his prime and is the focal point of the Spurs’ offense, averaging 20.3 points and 7.6 assists per game this past season. Slow him and you clog up the Spurs’ offense. Naturally that’s hard to do and the Heat will probably send more than Chalmers at him.
Chalmers averages a respectable 1.5 steals a contest, but normally he gets his thefts by swiping passes as opposed to taking the ball straight away from a defender. As far as one-on-one skills he probably can’t handle the incredibly quick Parker and neither can his backup, Norris Cole. The Heat still have other options though like switching Wade or Battier onto Parker and putting LeBron at the point. Advantage: San Antonio.
Shooting guard: Danny Green versus Dwayne Wade—Wade isn’t what he was when he had a monster finals in 2006—healthy—but is still too fast for Green to handle. Although Green’s strength is hitting the three, he would be better off trying to try posting up Wade in the paint. Meanwhile Wade should have a field day driving the lane.
Shooting guard is also Manu Ginobli’s spot though and Ginobli’s speed and savvy (knows how to take a charge for sure) could give Wade fits. On the other end of the court though Ginobli will be facing a three-time All-Defensive second team selection in Wade. Slight advantage: Miami.
Small forward: Kawhi Leonard versus LeBron James—Naturally you can insert about anyone versus LeBron here and LeBron will have a big edge, but the unknown Leonard’s not a bad option.
Physically, James still has about an inch and about 15 pounds on the 21-year-old Leonard (not to mention four MVPs) but there’s still something to be said about youth and wanting to make a name for oneself.
James, on the other hand, is still very motivated after winning the title last summer. The comparisons to Jordan will never stop and Jordan hoisted the trophy six times before calling it quits. This is LeBron’s time. Advantage: Miami.
Power forward: Tim Duncan versus Udonis Haslem—Two years ago, this would have been a tougher matchup to call. Duncan, then 35, had just averaged a career-worst 13.8 points and 8.9 rebounds per game—not bad numbers for most, but they represented a steep decline from his prime years.
Fast forward two years to 2013 and a slightly slimmer Duncan is back up to 17.8 points and 9.9 rebounds a contest and a spot back on the coveted All-NBA first team.
Meanwhile, the popular and hard-working Haslem has seen his minutes decline this season (down to 18.9 a game) as the Heat have Chris Anderson at the power forward as well—who is probably the better option against a post player like Duncan.
Neither Anderson or Haslem are above-average offensive players. Haslem can hit the mid-range jumper a little but with James, Wade, and Bosh on the floor, it’s rarely seen. Meanwhile, the high-energy Anderson’s best move is putting in an offensive rebound as he’s a known shot-blocker that can better challenge Duncan in the post. Advantage: San Antonio.
Center: Tiago Splitter versus Chris Bosh—After dealing with the seven-foot, two-inch, 280-pound behemoth that is Roy Hibbert for the last seven games, Bosh should be thrilled to see someone more his size in Splitter. Splitter only has an inch on the already slightly undersized (six-foot 10-inch) Bosh and isn’t quite the shot-blocker either at 0.8 a game.
Though Bosh’s numbers, as the third option in Miami, have declined to 16.6 points and 6.8 rebounds a night this past season, he still is able to bring Splitter out of the lane with his jump shot—enabling James and Wade to navigate more freely. Advantage: Miami.
Bench play: With Manu Ginobli as one the NBA’s best sixth-men, the Spurs have the best non-starter on either side but the Heat have more viable options.
Aside from Ginobli San Antonio brings in Boris Diaw at center and guard Gary Neal. Miami, in addition to the aforementioned Cole and Anderson has options such as Shane Battier, Rashard Lewis, Mike Miller, and Ray Allen that will stretch the defense or at least play good defense themselves. Advantage: Miami.
Coaching: Gregg Popovich versus Erik Spoelstra—When the Heat hired Spoelstra as head coach, he looked like he’d be another fill-in until Pat Riley decided to come down from the front office to snatch another title. But with Spoelstra leading the Heat to its third straight conference title, the fifth-year coach officially has the respect of his peers—despite the fact he wields the game’s greatest player.
Popovich had some of the same envy among his peers when he came in during the 1996-97 season as Duncan fell into his lap as the result of a lost season without the then-injured David Robinson. The resulting threesome of Popovich, Duncan, and Robinson was then the best trifecta in the league until Phil Jackson joined Shaq and Kobe in L.A.
Neither coach is in the ranks of Red Auerbach or Phil Jackson but both have proved they can win with good talent. If nothing else, Popovich has had much longer relationships with his big three of Duncan, Parker, and Ginobli than Spoelstra has with James, Wade, and Bosh. Very slight advantage: Popovich.
Motivation: This is LeBron’s second finals dance with the Spurs and the first one (2007) was an ugly affair—a four-game sweep that doubled as the Spurs’ last title. LeBron’s numbers were especially ugly as he shot just 35.6 percent from the floor for the series, while hitting just 4 of 20 from beyond the arc.
Though LeBron was just handed his fourth MVP award, placing him in very elite company, his lone title is constantly brought up when comparing him to the best ever.
The Spurs should be happy just to get back to this point as most observers felt the Thunder were the team to beat out west. Russell Westbrook’s injury changed the landscape though and they took full advantage. Advantage: Miami. The Heat win in six.