By John Schmeelk
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Last year the Heat and Spurs engaged in a fantastic NBA Finals that was one of the best playoff series in recent years. The stars are back, but the supporting casts of both teams have changed a bit. Here’s what you need to look for as the Heat try to win their third straight NBA title.
The Key Matchup: Tim Duncan vs. Chris Bosh
The Miami Heat want to play small with Chris Bosh at center, and much like they did against Oklahoma City, I would expect the Spurs to do the same with Tim Duncan. Last year, Duncan had a lot of success against Bosh in the post and he became the Spurs’ primary offensive weapon over long stretches. If Duncan can force the Heat to double-team him down there, it could open up their perimeter shooters.
Bosh, meanwhile, has become a much better long-range jump shooter, and Duncan is going to have to be extremely cognizant of not sliding too far into the paint. Bosh can hit the three, especially from the corner, and Duncan cannot let him get hot from the outside. Bosh has to be careful, however, not to allow Duncan to dominate on the glass like he did in last year’s finals.
The Superstar: LeBron James
The old adage in the NBA finals is that the team with the best player usually wins. The Spurs already dispelled that theory when they beat the Thunder, who, with Kevin Durrant and Russell Westbrook, might have had the two best players in the series. They will have to do the same in the finals with LeBron James. Last year, San Antonio decided to force James into a jump shooter and keep him into the paint.
James made them pay by hitting a lot of those jumpers, but the Spurs still consider that a win since they are keeping him off the free-throw line and stopping him from driving and kicking to his teammates for open shots. Kawhi Leonard, one of the premier young defenders in the league, will have the primary responsibility of guarding James. Boris Diaw, surprisingly, also did a decent job on James last season.
The Spurs will live with James getting 30 a game if he has to take a lot of shots to get the points, and if he doesn’t have a ton of assists and impact as a playmaker for others.
For the Heat, it’s Dwyane Wade. He looks much healthier this year than he did last year, and he has looked like a true complementary star to James in many playoff games this year. The Spurs will have to trust either Danny Green or Manu Ginobli to cover Wade, and with all the attention on James, they probably won’t get a lot of help. If Wade plays well, he could be the reason the Miami Heat win a championship.
Ginobli is the man for the Spurs. He played terrible in last year’s finals, especially in Game 6, where a missed free throw in the fourth quarter and two turnovers in overtime cost the Spurs their best shot to win a title. Over the course of the series, the Spurs were a dismal -32 when Ginobli played, and were a +37 when he was on the bench. He shot a poor percentage, especially in losses, and was a turnover machine. Ginobli has to be a net positive for the Spurs if they want to win the series. Much like Wade, he has played better over the course of this year’s playoffs, which is encouraging for San Antonio.
The Spurs can’t…
…turn it over if they want to beat the Heat. Miami thrives on turnovers, and turns steals into easy baskets. Last year, the Spurs — Ginobli specifically — turned it over way too much, which turned into easy Heat baskets. That can’t happen.
The Heat can’t…
…depend too much on their stars. Someone from the Heat’s supporting cast is going to have to step up the way Mike Miller did last season. Shane Battier is not the same player and Ray Allen is banged up. Norris Cole was a spark against the Pacers, and the Heat will have to find that somewhere vs. the Spurs.
I forgot to mention Tony Parker. He better be healthy and play like himself if the Spurs want to win. I think the Spurs are the better team, and they have the better coach. Unless Wade and James both play to a star’s level, and they find some help from the supporting cast, I think the Spurs win a hotly contested seven-games series. Spurs in seven.
Follow John on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and the world of sports.
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