It’s probably only fitting LeBron James gets another chance to beat the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals. Back in 2007, a 22-year-old James got a painful lesson in what championship basketball is all about, with his Cavaliers swept out by Tim Duncan and company. After the game, Duncan tried to console James by telling him the future belonged to him.
But in looking back at that brief post-series exchange in a media session this week, James was almost bitter, saying it really didn’t mean much to him since Duncan had just won the series and his Cavaliers had just lost. James also added he hasn’t forgotten the sight of the Spurs celebrating on the Cavs’ home court. Oh well, I guess the great ones always try to create extra motivation, even when it isn’t needed.
Still, emotions aside, this shapes up as a very intriguing matchup. Granted, neither team’s “Big 3” is what it used to be. Age has robbed Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili of some of their athleticism, even though both Spurs’ veterans are capable of coming up with clutch plays. And, we’ve all seen how ineffective Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have been in this year’s playoffs, even though both are capable of bouncing back in the Finals.
That leaves James and Tony Parker as the headliners, and don’t be surprised if James asks to defend the Spurs’ All-Star point guard down the stretch of close games. We saw how effective James was against Derrick Rose two seasons ago, and he has the quickness and length to take Parker out of what he likes to do in the screen/roll game.
On other side of the floor, second-year man Kawhi Leonard will get the bulk of the time against James. Leonard is an outstanding athlete, who’s really blossomed this year with expanded playing time, but at 6-7, 225 pounds, he really doesn’t have the strength to deal with James in the post. The Spurs might try Tiago Splitter or Boris Diaw on James at times, but neither player has the quickness to stay with the four-time league MVP. James might average a triple double in the Finals.
San Antonio will try to attack the smaller Heat frontline with Duncan rolling to the basket on screen/roll plays with Parker, and Splitter crashing the offensive boards. But the key for the Spurs will be getting consistent outside shooting from Danny Green, Ginobili, Matt Bonner and Gary Neal. San Antonio has really opened up its offense this season, trying to take advantage of transition opportunities with Parker leading the break and young athletes on the wings like Leonard, Green and Neal. But as Tom Thibodeau loves to say, “it’s a make or miss league”, and unless the Spurs can do some damage from the outside, Miami’s suffocating half-court defense could take them out of the plays they like to run.
One plus for the Spurs is their depth. Ginobili is still capable of scoring points in bunches, Bonner shot 44% from 3-point range during the regular season, Neal can also catch fire from long range and Diaw and DeJuan Blair provide some muscle inside. Heck, the Spurs even signed former superstar Tracy McGrady after his stint in the Chinese League, but it’s unlikely we’ll see him in the Finals unless there’s a blowout game.
I’m picking Miami in six games. The Heat just have too many weapons for the Spurs to handle, and James has become the best closer in the game. Add in the fact that Miami is a much better defensive team than the Spurs, and you can expect James to be hoisting championship trophy No. 2 sometime in the next two weeks.