NBA Finals preview: Heat in 7 games

NBA Finals preview: Heat in 7 games
June 6, 2013, 7:15 pm
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Billed in many circles as having the potential to be a classic matchup, harkening back to past eras, where evenly-matched squads with legendary players dotted the rosters of both teams in the NBA Finals, nothing suggests that the Heat and Spurs won't do everything in their power to ensure that the series lives up to the hype.

But regardless of the outcome, San Antonio is near the end of its run, with future first-ballot Hall of Famer Tim Duncan, despite his flashback first-team All-NBA campaign, and sixth-main extraordinaire Manu Ginobili in the twilight of their distinguished careers, even as the league's longest-tenured head coach, Gregg Popovich, and arguably the top point guard in the game, Tony Parker, are still going strong.

Meanwhile, Miami is attempting to live up to their potential as a dynasty in the making, but with Chicago native Dwyane Wade's ongoing injury-related struggles and All-Star big man Chris Bosh coming off a miserable conference-finals series, league MVP LeBron James, the most dominant force in basketball, could be put in the position of raising his individual efforts to an even higher level in order to carry his team to victory.

But although some observers give the Spurs the edge based on their extended rest after sweeping Memphis to get to the championship series, as well as the Heat's difficulties in a grueling seven-game series in the previous round, at this stage of the game fatigue is relative and the past is simply the past.

Parker's reported advice to former protege George Hill, Indiana's starting point guard, on how to beat Miami wasn't as pure as giving guidance to a former teammate, because although the Pacers certainly pushed Miami to the limit, they didn't finish the job, creating the one type of matchup that can trouble the Spurs. If Indiana had advanced, not only are the Pacers less experienced and overall, less talented than the Heat, but their physical, bruising, interior-oriented style is something San Antonio can deal with, having dispatched the similarly-styled Grizzlies in the conference finals and to a lesser degree, the Lakers in the opening round of the playoffs.

The opponent that pushed the Spurs the most was Golden State, which doesn't play exactly like Miami, but does employ an up-tempo approach. As good as Stephen Curry was, he's no James and while San Antonio is probably underrated athletically and behind Parker, can certainly push the pace, the Heat will be able to get back to their attacking ways without as much consequence, as there's no defensive presence like Indiana's Roy Hibbert or Bulls All-Star center Joakim Noah to deter James, Wade, Bosh and their supporting cast from getting to the rim.

The Spurs won't make it easy and in the half-court, they execute better than anybody in the league, but in the playoffs stars rise to the occasion and assuming James' tear continues, Wade can muster up a vintage performance or two and Bosh, no longer faced with the proposition of battling the behemoth-like Hibbert--Duncan is obviously no slouch, but Bosh won't be as physically outmatched--doesn't completely disappear, the Heat have the matchup they're looking for.

San Antonio will rely on Parker's brilliance, but it can be expected that at least down the stretch of close games, James spends some time guarding him and if his smothering of other elite point guards is any indication, the Spurs All-Star floor general could experience some trouble. Duncan should be his consistent self and Tiago Splitter has quietly been solid throughout the postseason, but even if Bosh doesn't play up to his abilities, the emergence of midseason pickup Chris Andersen bodes well for the defending champions, as does the toughness of the underrated Udonis Haslem.

As far as other role players, young Spurs wings Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green will have their hands full focusing on defending James and Wade, so any significant offensive contributions will be considered a bonus, while veteran reserve Boris Diaw can make an impact as an extra facilitator. But on the Miami side, although point guard Mario Chalmers might be fighting an uphill battle against Parker, it's a role he's now accustomed to and his periodic offensive outbursts, along with any explosions off the bench from understudy Norris Cole, seem almost demoralizing for opponents concentrating on stopping the Heat's superstars, while shooters like NBA all-time 3-point leader Ray Allen, defensive specialist Shane Battier and even hobbled swingman Mike Miller can change the tenor of a game if they can string some shots together.

Of course, the Spurs' desire to win another ring, extending the scope of their consistent excellence, can't be underestimated, but after not truly being tested yet--Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook's first-round knee injury changed expectations for the Western Conference--there's no way to know how the supporting cast outside of the "Big Three" of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili react, as only reserve shooter Matt Bonner was around the last time San Antonio won a title. Conversely, the stakes are a lot higher for Miami, as they were proven to be vulnerable and a loss, even to the well-regarded Spurs could spark further talk of dismantling the South Beach crew, especially if Bosh doesn't make his presence felt, Wade shows more signs of aging and James even displays body language that is reminiscent of his "Cleveland days," let alone make another comment referencing his underwhelming former Cavaliers teammates.

It says here that it will take seven games for the Heat will win their second consecutive title, but as long as the series lives up to its considerable promise, who's counting and who even cares?