The Conference Finals were exhilarating—but there is no time for a breather; the Finals are approaching.
Both respective series displayed varying styles that kept fans in perpetual anticipation. The Memphis Grizzlies and the San Antonio Spurs left fans in awe during the Western Conference Finals with their shared gritty style of play. Every participating player made the series as exhilarating as can be, despite the series sweep by San Antonio. The series was that good to a certain point.
The Eastern Conference teams did not let the West have all the fun, though they probably gave them all the rest while the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers fought it out—often literally—in a seven game series that went in favor of the preseason favorite Miami Heat.
Now the 2013 NBA Finals are set with the Miami Heat—the flashy superteam to end all superteams—and the San Antonio Spurs—who have dominated the West for the greater part of two decades and show no signs of slowing down. Will San Antonio’s much-needed rest translate to more wins or will their rest translate into on-court rust? How will the seven-game series affect Miami’s chances of capturing hoisting their second consecutive Larry O’Brien Trophy?
Although we can’t take a breather to take in the Conference Final happening, we can definitely ask a ton of questions—in this case ten—about what is coming ahead for the two remaining teams.
Who Has More Starpower? (Because that Matters)
Having players that make millions in endorsements aside from their multimillion dollar contracts does translate on the court to a certain extent in the form of defensive assignments. Of course, the defensive attention did not garner the endorsements; it’s their offensive prowess that did that.
Take for example LeBron James. Even with teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh who are virtually floundering in comparison to their max contracts, James is getting it done for the Miami Heat. All he really needs to do to get the rest of the offense going is drive it to the paint where he will be met by a double team. After that, all King James has to do is be on the lookout at the key and toss it to any open Heat teammate for an easy three. Miami has relied on this offensive technique which is why they were the second-most effective three-point shooting team in the regular season with a .396 shooting percentage.
Where LeBron uses his in-court clout to facilitate the pace of the game, the San Antonio Spurs are simply natural distributors of the ball. Anyone can shoot on will given the opportunity thanks to the greatest active NBA coach in Gregg Popovich. Simply put, the distrubtion of the ball for San Antonio comes from their lack of powerhouse player like James, though they do have Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili as a consolation.
Which Team has a Deeper Roster?
Both of these teams faced their fairly young counterparts in their Conference Finals, and they managed to win despite their lack of speed due partly because these two advancing teams had more depth; Memphis had a handful of players in the rotation that contributed whilst the starters rested and Indiana occasionally saw glimpses of “Psycho T” Tyler Hansborough. Now Miami and San Antonio face a bigger challenge when they find that their opposing bench can compete as well as the starters.
On paper, Miami may have the advantage—though Shane Battier’s recent injury might erode Miami’s shot. San Antonio has guards for days and a few back up big men to boot.
Defense Wins Championships, But Can It Win Two Consecutive?
Oddly enough, having one of the best defenses in the game can win a championship but the team has to get to the Finals first. The first and second best defensive regular season teams were the recently departed Memphis Grizzlies and Indiana Pacers who allowed their opponents to score around 90 points per game.
Looking at the Conference winners’ points allowed per game, Miami has the advantage over San Antonio by 1.6 points per game. Now, that may not sound like much, but San Antonio’s number (96.6 points per game allowed) is closer to the league average of 98.1. This small defensive flaw can be the small thread of the series that can be untangled, exposing the veteran Spurs.
Will the Heat Contain Tony Parker?
Dwyane Wade cannot be the guard that will contain Tony Parker throughout the series given his lackluster performances in the playoffs, save for game seven of the Conference Finals. Unless Coach Spo’ finds an effective rotation of guards to guard Parker, then he may have a field day starting in game 1. And if that does happen, expect an increase in his 23 points, 7.2 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game.
Can Erik Spoelstra Outcoach Gregg Popovich?
For what it’s worth, Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has taken the team to the NBA Finals ever since the Big Three signed with the team, but do not underestimate this young coach. He has made all the right moves, like putting in Chris Andersen in crucial points in the game, but can he compete with Coach Popovich? Pop has made a living by playing mind games. His November 29th decision to rest his starters comes to mind. If Spo’ plays the role of sly tactician and doesn’t let Popovich’s mental games get to him, he may have a fighting chance.
How Big of A Role Will the Frontcourt Play?
When the Miami Heat faced the Indiana Pacers, one could not help but stare in astonishment at Pacers center Roy Hibbert’s dominance in the paint, whether it was throwing it up for an easy two points or grabbing rebounds like he was the only player on the court. Much of the credit goes to Hibbert for being an excellent player but Miami’s lack of size is to blame as well. Their biggest man on the court is often Chris Bosh, who can handle his own, but Miami does not have another big man to compliment the 6’11” Bosh.
San Antonio doesn’t have the tallest assortment of players in their front court either. Fortunately for them, they have a 6’11” Tiago Splitter than plays alongside Tim Duncan. Miami will need to adjust their game to stop either of the two—most likely Duncan—from getting easy scoring opportunities in the paint.
How Did These Two Teams Compare in the Regular Season?
There is only so much information that the regular season matchups can tell us, especially since both teams did their best to hide their offensive schemes in the form of benchings and injuries. Miami won both regular season games. In Miami, the Heat beat the Spurs 100-105 on November 29, 2012. This was, however, the now infamous game where Spurs coach Gregg Popovich rested his three stars. Parker, Duncan and Ginobili will undoubtedly tally up a lot of minutes this time around so San Antonio may have the advantage .
Conversely, in the second game on March 31 in San Antonio, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James were out for the Heat while San Antonio’s big three played. The Heat still won 88-86 with the help of a three-pointer late in the game by Ray Allen.
Rest Versus Rust?
Since both series ended on the opposite side of the spectrum–one went the minimum of four and the other extended to the full seven–the San Antonio Spurs’ preparedness will come into question. Yes, a team with a core of veteran players need more rest than the younger and faster teams, but will the week and a half of rest reveal a rejuvenated Spurs team in game one, or will they show a bit of rust after not playing for so long?
Miami is facing a lack of rest. For them, will they continue their impressive performance from the Conference Finals or will they fizzle out before the NBA Finals end?
Which Method Will Prevail: Winning Through the Draft versus Winning Through Free Agency?
Aside from the obvious differences already mentioned, the fundamental core of these two teams is drastically different. San Antonio has managed to stay relevant through drafting smart. This often means drafting international players and having them debut when they are ready for the pace of the NBA or trading valuable pieces to acquire younger talent, much like the Spurs did a few years back when they traded the beloved George Hill for Kawhi Leonard out of San Diego State.
Miami decided to take Yankees route—that is throwing the bank at a few superstars with the hope that they will mesh and bring a championship. It already worked given that the team won last year’s NBA Finals. And as a result of the Finals win, veterans flocked with the hope of getting a ring for themselves. Neither team will admit that this series pits both schools of thought against each other, but this on-court battle is simply for the fans. Which method will prevail?
Who Will Win?
Not many are giving the San Antonio Spurs a chance against this Miami Heat squad that has only improved since winning the NBA Finals last year. But with the burden of just playing a seven-game series against Indiana, the Spurs may already have the upper hand. Wade and Bosh have not been playing like superstars and have forced LeBron to play like he was back in Cleveland. San Antonio, on the other hand, is clicking on all cylinders. This definitely won’t be a sweep; expect this series to go to six games–or even seven. If that happens, Miami’s lack of rest will be on display for the entire basketball world to witness.