The Indiana Pacers forced an unlikely Game 7 against the Miami Heat on Friday Night, ensuring that at least one more game will take place before the NBA Finals. That's good news for David Stern, good news for TNT, but more so than anyone else, by a long shot, that is incredible news for the San Antonio Spurs.
They're now probably the favorites to win it all.
Not in the court of public opinion, of course, and not in Las Vegas either. So long as LeBron James' team has a pulse—regardless of the deficient supporting cast around him—that team will be considered the favorite by most.
But San Antonio is a uniquely cognitive opponent, a team that always had the potential to give Miami fits. And now they have a secret weapon on their side, an impossible-to-predict edge that could push them over the top against any opponent. The Spurs now have rest.
The NBA Finals will tip off on Thursday, June 6, four nights from the time this article was published. Whoever wins the Eastern Conference—and for the love of God, let's not call Miami a sure-thing after the way it looked in Game 6—will be three nights removed from a grueling, physical seven-game series. Their bodies and minds alike will be drained from the tribulation of that endeavor.
San Antonio, on the other hand, will be nine nights removed from a four-game sweep of Memphis. Their bodies spry from a week-plus sans live contact, their minds at ease from familiarity. They couldn't be in a better place.
For some teams, that might not necessarily be true. For some teams, the extended, almost comical respite from playoff basketball would be a curse in disguise. Their bodies would be rested from the time off, but they wouldn't acquit themselves well in Game 1. Their minds wouldn't be at ease from success, but rather they'd be drunk from it, cocky, over-confident. They'd be knocked down a few pegs once they needed to start trying again.
But this isn't "some teams" we're talking about, and it's not "most teams" either. This is the San Antonio Spurs. This is Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan and Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. I hate saying something this trite, but they've been here before. They know what this takes. They know from experience, both good and bad, how to handle a long layoff between series'. They won't be unprepared to play.
Which means they should only experience the benefits of a long rest, not the reductions. With age comes basketball wisdom, but it also comes fatigue. The ailing bodies of a Duncan or a Ginobili need copious amounts of rest. And thanks to their sweep of Memphis, that is exactly what they got.
Their opponent will not be so lucky. Let's assume, for a second, that Miami does win Game 7 on Monday. What kind of state will that roster be in? LeBron is a superhuman like Robert Griffin, but who else's body will be primed for another physical series?
Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade both look like they've been aging in dog years, hitting a nadir in Game 6 where they combined to go 4-for-19 for 15 points. That was their lowest total ever since Bosh joined the Heat three summers ago. And what of the rest of their supporting cast? Shane Battier and Ray Allen have been playing NBA basketball since I began watching NBA basketball—how are they supposed to hold up through all this?
So yes, the Miami Heat are still technically the favorites to win it all. And sure, considering the peak potential and given the performance we saw in the Finals last year, that's probably a fair thing to call them. But they don't have everything going in their favor, and if I were a betting man, even if the odds were completely even, they wouldn't be my first pick.
I'll take the team that's lost twice all postseason over either team that's lost thrice this series.