We’ve had a wild ride in many of these 2013/2014 Playoff series. After the best first round in recent memory (or perhaps ever), a passable second round, and a Conference Finals that brought some of that momentum from the first round back, the Spurs got what they wanted in a rematch with the Heat. Only a few supporting cast/roster changes were made between this time last year and now between both teams, so we should be set for a NBA Finals rematch for the ages.
Using a few different factors, let’s see how these two potential dynasties match up.
There was a lot of talk on twitter this postseason around the notion that whichever team has the best player in a series, that squad moves on. That rule did not apply in the Spurs/Thunder series where Durant and Westbrook played very well, but OKC did not play well enough as a team to beat the well-oiled Spurs. The Spurs solid frontcourt had a lot to do with that, and it starts with Timmy D. The 37 year old future hall of famer is having a fantastic postseason so far, averaging 16.5 PPG, 8.9 RPG and shooting a highly efficient .513 from the field. The Spurs utilize their bigs very well, setting multiple screens for shooters and ball handlers every possession, and pass well between the two bigs when they decide not to play small ball. Diaw and Splitter have had productive postseasons and will have no problem taking on their defensive assignments when the Heat go big… which will also be rare in this series. Look for Lebron to play PF at times and the Heat to go small whenever they can. Bosh and co. in the frontcourt will have a tough time with the rest of San Antonio’s bigs, especially with Chris Andersen’s status still uncertain.
Edge - Spurs
While the Spurs have the depth in the backcourt (Parker, Ginobili, Belinelli, Green, Leonard, Mills, and Joseph) to make a second straight Finals appearance, there is no denying that the talent in Miami’s starting backcourt will be tough for the Spurs to deal with (It should be noted that while Lebron plays PF periodically, he ultimately plays in the backcourt and has the mentality and skills of a guard). Lebron is once again having MVP like numbers this postseason with 27.1 PPG, 5 APG, 6.8 RPG, and shooting a career playoff best .562 from the field. Kawhi Leonard will have his hands full defending Lebron from penetrating in the halfcourt, and will rely heavily on help defense in the paint. When the Heat’s defense is clicking with their guard play, they trap well and force a lot of turnovers, or force the opposing team into one on one plays with the shot clock running down. Live ball turnovers are also something the Spurs will have to limit when playing an excellent transition team like Miami. Wade has also stepped his game up, looking much less gimpy compared to last year’s Playoff run. 18.7 PPG, 4.3 APG while shooting an efficient .519 from the field has him primed for a better performance against the Spurs in this rematch. A potentially hobbled Tony Parker makes this factor tip one way on the scale.
Edge - Heat
Although the star power of both these teams sways in the direction of South Beach, the offensive philosophies of both Pop and Spo are quite similar; move the ball quickly to shift the defense and find the open man, as both teams have an array of shooters at their disposal. Both coaches have been smart in resting key guys during the regular season to ultimately get where they are today. Expect this year to be an exciting game of chess, as each team tinkers with their lineups to expose each others mismatches and weaknesses. Many pundits would call this sideline factor a wash, but Coach Spo has proven himself capable of keeping a team-oriented offensive philosophy despite the starpower on the Heat. The team first philosophy doesn’t end with offense, as their defense is among the best in the league when it’s firing on all cylinders. When it is, it is swarming, and that creates turnovers and ill advised shot opportunities for the opposing team. Spoelstra is a great coach, and will be for years to come, but he’s still going up against the reigning COTY. This award is seemingly Popovich’s to lose every single year, as they’ve kept a winning culture since the late ‘90’s. The way he gains trust during the regular season amongst his coaching staff and all 14 active personnel, the Spurs are able to experiment with lineups and rest veterans, still being able to claim the league’s best record. The only notable criticism he’s received in the last 15 years is how he deals with the media (a non-coaching factor) and the lineup he had at the end of the 4th of last year’s Game 6 Finals loss (deciding not to leave Duncan out there on a critical defensive possession). Expect Pop to learn and adjust from last year’s Finals appearance. With his experience and toughness in the Playoffs, he should win this chess match.
Edge - Spurs
- The Spurs want this matchup probably more than anyone else, according to Timmy D, and that actually has some weight. The Spurs have a bad taste left in their mouth from game 6 of last year’s Finals, which could determine which team is hungrier for a title.
- San Antonio are masters of acquiring players that fit their system, this year adding Marco Belinelli to the mix. That can be seen as an upgrade over Gary Neal, adding size and equal shooting efficiency. The way Diaw and Mills have vastly improved and integrated themselves into the system, the Spurs depth is one of their main strengths. While the way Miami puts its trust into each one of their players is admirable, their success ultimately comes down to the big 3. San Antonio is much more full circle; when names are called, all 14 are ready to contribute.
- Rashard Lewis is a big question mark here. Don’t be surprised for him to start at PF after he lit up the Pacers in games 5 and 6, especially with the Birdman’s status still uncertain. If Lewis can fill the void for the departed Mike Miller and aging Shane Battier, the Spurs will have trouble playing with their preferred bigs Duncan and Splitter due to spacing issues.
- The NBA finally did away with the tired 2-3-2 Finals format. The higher seeded team in that old method never seemed to have the advantage they deserved. Lose 1 at home in games 1 and 2, and you’re looking at a serious disadvantage for games 3-5. The Spurs have homecourt advantage with the new 2-2-1-1-1 format, and that plays a huge role in this series seeing how they dismantled OKC in San Antonio during the Western Conference Finals.
- Chris Bosh, who has admitted his role of giving up starpower for rings, is the ultimate X-Factor for the Heat. If he’s able to get into a rhythm beyond the arc, the Spurs will have trouble closing out on such a long shooter. His helpside D will be indispensable if the Heat have any chance of controlling the paint on that end.
Edge - Spurs, by a small margin.
It’s a strange thing to say that the star studded Heat are aging, it feels weird to even mention it when talking about the big 3. Their stars, however, are not the first come to mind. Role players like Haslem, Battier, an injured Andersen, and even the ageless Allen have played major roles in the last two Larry O’Brien trophies for Heat. As a Heat fan, you’d have to wonder how much is left in the tank for these role players. When matched up against their Western Conference opponent, San Antonio in some ways looks younger; also a strange feeling when talking about the Spurs. San Antonio is all business this time around, and know what they have to do against the defending champs.
Verdict - Spurs in 7.