Miami Heat vs. San Antonio Spurs: NBA Finals Preview

Tonight the Miami Heat take on the San Antonio Spurs in Game One of the NBA Championship Finals, with the Spurs looking for a fifth ring to crown the Popovich/Duncan era, and the Heat looking to begin their own dominant chapter in the NBA history books by claiming back-to-back titles.

Both teams were arguably the strongest in their respective conferences throughout the regular season, although the Oklahoma City Thunder did pip San Antonio to the number one spot in the West, after Coach Greg Popovich took the decision to limit the minutes of his star players in the final games once a play-off berth was guaranteed. Miami however stormed to the top of the East and claimed the best record in the league thanks to another MVP winning season from LeBron James, who will have extra motivation to beat the Spurs after they swept him and his former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, in the Championship Finals in 2007.

It is a remarkable achievement for the Spurs to reach this stage again, but despite being written off season-after season due to their aging roster they will contest a fifth NBA Finals in sixteen years under Coach Popovich, with 36-year-old centre Tim Duncan having played, and won, in each of the these series also. Despite the tendency to look to the age of some of the San Antonio team (other star players Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are 35 and 32 respectively) they have reinvented their game since crashing out in the Western Conference quarter-finals to Memphis two years ago. The team which won the franchise’s first four titles was a ruthless defensive unit, with a post-orientated offence, but with the additions of Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Gary Neal they now have a fluid fast-break attack, coupled with lethal three-point shooting, while Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan can still get it done inside if need be.

The Miami Heat are a complete different animal to the Spurs though; with a big-three consisting of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh, coupled with an ever stronger supporting cast, they rarely struggle for points or efficiency on either end of the floor. Wade and James especially have the determination and almost super-human ability to take over games and win points singlehandedly when the rest of the team is struggling. In the earlier rounds of the play-offs this responsibility has fallen mainly to LeBron though, with Wade and Bosh both averaging less than 15 points-per-game so far in the post-season, a trend which the Spurs defence will be keen to continue.

Both teams base their game heavily around three point shooting, and the team which copes best with the others outside threat will stand a very good chance for success, although both teams have adapted their play quickly and effectively in previous rounds to counter problems posed by their opposition. Another factor in the series is the gap both teams have had to rest between games; San Antonio have had ten days to recuperate after they swept the Memphis Grizzlies 4-0 in the Western Conference Finals, while Miami have only had two days to recover since they beat the Indiana Pacers in seven games in the East. While it could be argued Miami will carry momentum, the San Antonio big three of Parker, Duncan and Ginobili all have bags of experience in this situation, and will take no time at all to get back into their rhythm once the game tips off.

Although both teams are strong, how they cope with each other’s key players will be another major factor in deciding whether this years’ Championship heads East or West.  Tony Parker is now the main man for the Spurs, he is one of the NBA’s premier point guards, and if he is allowed to dictate the pace of the game San Antonio will find plenty of scoring opportunities, either from their perimeter shooters, or from Parker driving into the lane himself. If Parker is the crucial cog in the Spurs offence,  then LeBron James is definitely the key for the Heat; his supporting superstars Wade and Bosh have so far been disappointing in the post-season, and he has taken the team upon his shoulders and carried them this far. If the Spurs can reduce his efficiency then a lot of pressure will be put on his team mates to rediscover their best form, although with James in rampant form that is much easier said than done.

What makes this match-up harder to predict is that neither team fielded a full strength line-up against each other in their two regular season meetings (the Spurs were indeed fined for resting Duncan, Parker, Ginobili and Green in their visit to Miami), so although the Heat won the season series 2-0, it doesn’t really mean too much when it comes to these games. Statistically both sides are also very even, averaging similar numbers in rebounding, points in the paint, and three point field goal percentage, therefore it seems that the games may be decided by individual brilliant performances, rather than one team having a weakness exploited. Both teams have title winning experience, and they both have their key players who will be relied upon in the clutch. The teams appear to be so closely matched that the series will surely swing back and forth, and it may take a game seven thriller to separate them. If this is the case then the San Antonio Spurs’ vast experience, and extended rest period may be enough to see them to a fifth championship.


Spurs to win the series 4-3.

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