Thursday, June 06, 2013

Yeah, About LeBron Saying The Heat Aren't Winning Just One Championship, Or Two ...

Let me make a second prediction, other than which team will win and in how many games: Ratings for this year’s NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs will suck.

Too bad, although it’s understandable; there is nothing aesthetically pleasing about these Spurs, who have somehow made it to their fifth Finals in the past 15 years (although it’s their first since the 2007 playoffs).  They just win, baby.  So, unless you’re a Spurs fan or still hate LeBron James, you are, at the very most, tuning into basketball because it’s summer and there’s nothing on broadcast television except re-runs.  What I’m saying is only the cities of San Antonio and Cleveland are rooting for the Spurs.

If you are a sophisticated and knowledgeable fan of the National Basketball Association, however, there are many intriguing storylines to drool over.  James and Tony Parker, probably the two best players this postseason.  A perimeter team facing one that loves to slash to the basket.  The ne plus ultra of flash versus substance.  A team chock full of players that have matured together on the same time since they started their NBA careers began against a team of high-priced mercenaries.

And don’t forget the season history between these two teams, or lack thereof: The Spurs were fined $250,000 because head coach Gregg Popovich sent stars Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green home instead of even having them on the bench in street clothes in their November regular season matchup in Miami, site of Games 1 and 2 (and potentially 6 and 7) of the Finals.  Heat coach Erik Spoelstra returned the favor when Miami visited San Antonio on March 31, benching James, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers (though they were still with the team, just sitting in the locker room; that apparently is the reason the Heat were not fined).

Miami won both times, by the way.  And, yes, there’s a big difference between the regular season and the playoffs.  But while this is a mouth-watering contrast in playing styles, team development, cities and even culture (seriously, I can’t remember a finals matchup in recent sports history where two teams exemplify their diametrically different hometowns, or at least what I stereotypically believe those hometowns represent), I’m afraid that this won’t be a good series, or a long one.

The reason is simple: While Parker clearly is the second-best player playing right now, and it’s not even close, James is the best player playing right now, and it’s not even close.  And Spoelstra will do what he finally did in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, where the Heat finally dismissed the Indiana Pacers: Sic James on the opponents’ best perimeter shooter.  His defensive game may be just as good as the offensive game that bailed the Heat out of many a jam against the Pacers.  If James destroys Parker’s ability to pick-and-roll or drive-and-kick, and/or the Heat are able to rotate to the open shooters outside in time, Miami wins their second title in a row in a laugher.

That James often looked like a one-man band in their series vs. Indiana is true and potentially an obstacle to their championship aspirations, but that’s irrelevant.  The other matchups, once you pair up James with Parker, are at most a wash.  Wade and Ray Allen can’t really guard anyone with more than average success, but Ginobili will have to be just as daring and precise as Parker for San Antonio to have any chance to come out victorious, and I’ll believe he’s 100% healthy when I see it.  Besides, if Ginobili does go off, a well-rested Shane Battier may be inserted back into the rotation to shut him down.  Duncan has the savvy, but I like Miami’s frontcourt better because Chris Bosh is backed up by Udonis Haslem, Chris “Birdman” (Andersen) and, if need be, Joel Anthony.  Kawhi Leonard is a great role player, but the Heat have more role players, so I expect Leonard to be swallowed up whole.

I give the Spurs a, oh, 15% chance of winning the Finals.  They’ll have to gut out two, maybe three losses before they win four, but I can see San Antonio winning one game on the road.  They have two great advantages: Tonight will be the first night all year both teams see each other’s best players, and I believe the Spurs roster has shown up more consistently this postseason than the Heat.  However, if every Heat player brings it every game, their roster, top to bottom, is better than anybody else’s in the league.  And I can’t see James allowing any role player to completely disappear an entire series.

Give the Spurs credit for making it this far even though their Big 3 of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili have been together since the 2002-03 season.  I thought this team’s best days were behind them; I expected either the Denver Nuggets or the Golden State Warriors to knock them out two rounds ago.  With a combination of judicious playing time distribution, contributions by their role players, heart and a lucky break (literally; I’m talking about the knee injury Bastard Seattle SuperSonics guard Russell Westbrook suffered early in the playoffs), San Antonio has turned back the clock.  Unfortunately, they are facing this generation’s Jordan, who singlehandedly will make all the difference.  Furthermore, they are not an athletic team, and if the Spurs guards start turning the ball over and give the Heat easy transition points, they will not come back from a deficit.  San Antonio winning in seven or even six games is plausible, but it’s much more likely that they will lose an NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.

I had predicted that the Oklahoma City Thunder would be here instead of the San Antonio Spurs.  But because I was right about Miami, I will not change my pre-season prediction of the series itself: Miami in 4.  And so, what James said when he was introduced as a Miami Heat is one step closer to being reality:

Oh, and for Tim Duncan’s sake let’s hope Joey Crawford isn’t officiating, although that’s probably a foregone conclusion:

Posted by WilliamSou at 3:15 AM


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