Allen: The NBA finals are finally here. Who would have thought it would have been Miami that would stumble into the finals? San Antonio has been on vacation for the past week, while Miami has been in a physical battle with Indiana. This is the most intriguing NBA final out of the past three due to the fact that San Antonio has never lost in the Finals and has looked pretty dominant in the playoffs.
Now granted they have been in some close overtime games, but they haven’t gone to the extent that Miami has gone. They haven’t been outplayed on a drastic level like Miami has. Even when Golden State beat them, the games were competitive for the most part. Despite San Antonio’s success, Miami still comes in as a favorite. Michael Ryne and John Canton will be breaking down the entire series with me, along with making their finals prediction.
Michael: For the second straight year, the Miami Heat will try to defeat the second seed in the Western Conference for the NBA's championship. Miami has more than proven themselves as the cream of the crop of the East with three straight Finals appearances, but many critics will say they need to get this second championship if the "Big Three" experiment wants to be called a success.
San Antonio has never lost in the NBA Finals. This could be the last chance their "Big Three" has to capture a championship together. Certainly no lack of storylines in this series and it should be a fun one.
1. Can Tim Duncan have the same impact that Roy Hibbert had in the last series, despite Duncan being a few inches shorter?
Allen: If you look at it from a statistical standpoint, Duncan can average 20 points and 10 rebounds like Hibbert did. He isn’t going to get as many baskets as Hibbert did last series. He’ll have to work hard for his points, but there isn’t anyone on the Heat that can really give him trouble. Miami is still a team that lacks height and will have to constantly pressure Duncan like they did to Hibbert during game seven.
Duncan is simply not a defensive enforcer like Hibbert though. He’s not someone that will make LeBron James and Dwayne Wade settle for jump shots on a consistent basis. He is still an above-average defender and can give Chris Bosh major problems. It’s not possible for him to have the impact Hibbert had by dominating both sides of the court. The expectations for Duncan is to continue to play like he did during the regular season by averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Michael: Tim Duncan can (and will) have a far more subtle, yet prominent impact than that of Roy Hibbert's. He got hyped because it was a young star blossoming before our eyes as an upstart team tried to knock off the kings of the East. However, Duncan can do the simple things that he has been doing for over a decade now in the NBA, and provide just as big of an impact.
Simply stepping out of the paint and nailing those patented off-the-glass jumpers will force the Heat big men to stray from the middle on defense. We saw in the Indiana series how thin the Heat are in the terms of big men and were losing that presence in the paint. Duncan will force them to come out and defend him to allow the Spurs big guys to grab those offensive rebounds. Duncan also has that leadership on and off the court that Roy Hibbert can't even fathom at this point of his career. You will not be hearing any offensive post-game remarks from Tim Duncan.
2. Will Chris Bosh be able to bounce back after a horrendous series against the Pacers?
Allen: I’ve been defending Chris Bosh for most of the series against Indiana. It sounds ridiculous, but look how Miami positioned him in the starting lineup. They put him as a center, when he is only six foot ten and weighs 235 pounds. You expect him to be effective against someone that is seven foot two and weights 280 pounds like Hibbert. He is a power forward and the Heat should have drafted or traded for an actual center this season.
The one positive from the playoffs is that Bosh has improved his shot from three-point range, which is a new element to his game. Tiago Splitter may not be Hibbert, but he’s very lanky and will cause problems for Bosh. I’m expecting this to be another tough series for Bosh. He could break out for a game or two because he’s too talented to be completely shut down. Still though, Miami desperately needs to add a center this off-season and let him go back to being comfortable as a power forward.
Michael: If Chris Bosh was going to bounce back, he was going to do it in game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals. He started off well by nailing a jumper against Indiana and the crowd was behind him. Then he bricks a three-point shot and everything continues going downhill. He has fallen into a rut, where he thinks he is a small forward now. He hovers around the three-point line without moving in hopes of getting a jump shot.
Indiana was a great defensive team and so are the Spurs. Chris Bosh will likely be given plenty of open looks as the Spurs look for him to prove himself once again, and I won't believe he's "back" until he starts hitting more shots.
3. Other than Kawhi Leonard, what role player will have to make the biggest impact for the Spurs to win this series?
Allen: Some may consider Leonard to be a role player, but he’s on his way to becoming a star player. It’s too easy to pick him, especially with how good he’s playing and how he’ll have to guard James for most of the series. Tiago Splitter is my pick here for the simple fact that he plays center and can make a major impact in this series.
I’m sure that Gregg Popovich will like to play Splitter more in this series rather than Boris Diaw, who isn’t a good defender or rebounder. Splitter is more athletic and can block shots. He needs to stay out of foul trouble, along with not giving James and Wade many easy baskets. With Miami’s lack of size, he should be able to take more than five shots a game that he’s currently averaging in the playoffs. San Antonio has been relying on Tony Parker too much at times. They need to get more players involved and Splitter should be on top of that list.
Michael: Tracy McGrady will channel his once All-NBA self and annihilate the Miami - okay, seriously. Danny Green has the potential to light up the Miami Heat this series. There was once upon a time when people claimed Danny Green was only on the Cleveland Cavaliers because LeBron James was a friend of his. The former benchwarmer is now one of the better three-point shooters in the NBA today. He is certainly the best one in this series - sorry, Ray Allen.
Green is capable of going off with a career-high 28 points on eight three-pointers during the regular season and has a little bit of a clutch gene, as he hit a game-winner against the Los Angeles Lakers in the season as well. His 10.5 PPG during the season was a career-high and his 43 percent shooting from three-point range was one of the best in the league (and he is shooting an even better percentage in the playoffs).
The Spurs move the ball so well. I’m sure there will be plenty of times where Tony Parker drives the lane, dishes the ball out, and we watch it whip around the arc until it finds a wide-open Danny Green.
4. Do you see Norris Cole playing more minutes in this series due to being a better defender than Mario Chalmers?
Allen: Chalmers may start at point guard, but it’s becoming more apparent that Cole is starting to get more playing time. If you look at the last ten games, Cole is averaging 29 minutes a game. Chalmers is right on the same level averaging 29 minutes a game as well. Erik Spolestra seems to favor Cole’s defending and his ability to be more of a natural scorer over Chalmers in the fourth quarter.
He has the ability to isolate and score, while Chalmers usually is playing off James or Wade to score. With Tony Parker playing so well in the playoffs, it seems like Cole will be playing more minutes, especially in crunch time. He gets off screens faster and gives point guards more problems defensively. Chalmers is a solid point guard, but it’s obvious he’s hit his peak. Cole has the potential to become a star. His jump shot has improved and it seems like he plays with a lot of confidence.
Michael: I see Norris Cole playing more minutes than Mario Chalmers, not only because of his superior defense, but because overall he is playing better basketball. If you compare their stats in the playoffs, they're fairly similar. A simple viewing of any of the Heat's games will show you the spark Norris Cole provides. Miami's crowd loves him and you can tell LeBron enjoys having him on the court with him. Cole is faster, especially defensively than Chalmers.
Trying to slow down and keep up with Tony Parker will be key for the Heat if they want to win. Norris Cole has a better chance of slowing down Tony Parker than Mario Chalmers. It doesn't help that Chalmers is only shooting 30% from three-point in the playoffs. If Miami needs a defensive stop in the waning minutes, Erik Spoelstra is going to go with Cole.
5. Who is going to win this series and how many games will it take?
Allen: I’m really impressed by San Antonio and think they can cause serious problems for Miami. They are a much better offensive team than Indiana, while being on their level defensively. The only thing that they lack is a seven footer, who can play both ends of the court. That would have been a huge difference maker against a team that lacks size like Miami.
In the end, LeBron James is simply too good and Dwayne Wade should have a much better series. I’ve never seen a top ten player like Wade be criticized this much in my life. He had a difficult series, so does all superstar players. He is still an elite player in this league and he should be very productive in this series.
San Antonio will have their moments, especially with Tony Parker playing at such a high level. Manu Ginobili is going to have to shoot well this series for San Antonio to truly win this series. They need him to be efficient to take the load off of Duncan and Parker mostly. Miami is too fast and athletic for San Antonio to contain. The games should be highly competitive, but Miami’s home court advantage and depth will play major factors into them repeating as champions.
Prediction: Miami Heat wins 4-2
Michael: We did an NBA playoffs preview post over a month ago on this site and I predicted the Miami Heat would defeat the San Antonio Spurs in seven games. As much as I would like to stick to my convictions, sadly I can't. I'm going to flip the prediction and say the Spurs win in it seven games instead.
Watching the Heat against the Milwaukee Bucks and Chicago Bulls was typical Miami dominance. What some of us may not have seen was how easy it was for LeBron to take over and lead the Heat to a win. However when they played Indiana, the Heat looked vulnerable. LeBron had to do it all and if this repeats itself, I don't see the Heat beating the Spurs four different times.
The Heat flourished on the mistakes of the Pacers and the Spurs will not make the same dumb turnovers Indiana did. If Manu Ginobili can step his game up, then the Heat will be in even more trouble. Spurs remain undefeated in the Finals and Miami has some questions to answer in the offseason.
Prediction: San Antonio Spurs wins 4-3
Allen: John Canton has his own NBA finals preview & prediction here.
John: I'm intrigued by the NBA Finals this year because I think the two best teams are here. Before the playoffs I thought it would be the OKC Thunder, but once Russell Westbrook hurt his knee I knew it would be the Spurs. Now that the matchup is official who will emerge as the champions?
Right now I'm leaning towards the Heat for one main reason: LeBron James. This is third trip to the Finals in a row (fourth overall) and he's coming off the best season of his line. All the work he's put in this season is for this matchup right here. The question is what kind of help is the league MVP going to get? He needs more production from Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Or is it Christina Bosh due to the lack of rebounds? I don't know. They are All-Stars and they will need to play like it for the Heat to win. The Spurs are better than the Pacers because they have more depth. They have much better three point shooting too. Against the Pacers, Miami didn't have to worry about the threes. Against the Spurs that's what they have to worry about the most. If you double on Tony Parker in the lane or Tim Duncan in the post their spot up shooters will kill you.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Heat need to play team basketball meaning pass the ball around and find the open shooter. There will be times when they can definitely play isolation ball with James or Wade at the top of the key, but they are at their best when they move the ball around to hit the easy shot. That depth of the Spurs that I mentioned means they don't get tired. They run ten guys deep. The Pacers had a short bench, so you could tire them out. The Spurs are built differently. As long as James has help from his team I know he can do enough to guide them to the series victory.
What I'm interested in most is how will Miami defend the Spurs? LeBron James is their best defender. There's no question of that. Do they keep him on somebody like Leonard, Ginobili or Green on the perimeter or do they put him against Spurs All-Star PG Tony Parker, who is playing as well as he ever has. I think he'll likely start off on the wing players, but once the 4th quarter starts he'll be on Parker. If James can neutralize Parker then the Spurs offense will stall a bit. It's not Tim Duncan that is the main focus of the Spurs offense. It's Parker. When he sets up his teammates and scores 25 PPG they are difficult to deal with. I think James will be able to make things difficult due to his size and his ability to block shots from behind too.
I'm going with the Heat because I think James will rise up to the challenge of guarding Parker and also averaging his usual 27-7-7 as he leads his team to their second straight NBA Championship. He's the best player alive. He's one of the best players I've ever seen. As long as his supporting staff is ready like I expect them to be then they will jump on the King James train to win their second straight NBA Title.
Prediction: Miami Heat wins 4-2.
Michael: "I'm predicting an epic NBA Finals this year." That is what I said in our playoffs preview, and that is what we will get. Can LeBron lead this Heat team against the best overall TEAM in the NBA? Will Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh step up? The electricity of Tony Parker, along with the potential of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green making themselves known to the NBA world is there.
LeBron goes for revenge against the Spurs who beat him in 2007. All you can hope for as an NBA fan is for the referees to not dictate the game and become the storyline. If that happens, we have the makings of a very special NBA Finals.
Allen: I’ve been very frustrated with the referees, along with the amount of flopping that has occurred over the past week or so. San Antonio hasn’t been involved with, but we saw it between Indiana and Miami. It was alarming to see Miami was still trying to flop in a game seven. Bosh and Chalmers tried to do it on separate occasions, which led to both no calls.
If the refs continue to not blow the whistle, hopefully that can lead to the end of flopping. Both teams play drastically different, so I’m really looking forward to seeing how both styles clash. We will be covering the NBA finals on the site, so be sure to check out it on a day-by-day basis.