LeBron James and the Miami Heat struggled mightily in the Eastern Conference Finals against a big Indiana Pacers team. Now, with a Finals matchup against the San Antonio Spurs looming, Miami may have similar issues against a big, physical and deep San Antonio team.
In the Eastern Conference Finals series, the Pacers pulled down 54 more rebounds than the Heat over seven games. This includes finally winning the battle of the boards in a blowout game seven win.
With backup big-men types Chris Anderson, Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony forced into big minutes, it's little wonder that the Heat struggled so mightily against the bigger, more physical Pacers.
At his Finals news conference, Miami head coach, Erik Spoelstra stated that the Heat will have a "different challenge" in imposing their will against the Spurs than they did against the Pacers, but the reality is that the Spurs have similar size up front to exploit the weak Miami frontcourt.
Spoelstra is correct in that the Spurs' style of play is certainly different from that of the Pacers. The Pacers rely heavily their on big men, Roy Hibbert and David West, while the Spurs rely more heavily on guards Tony Parker and Manu Ginóbili.
In this series, though, it would be wise for the Spurs to go away from their two veteran guards more than they have in the past. Since I'm sure head coach Greg Popovich and the Spurs took note of the Pacers' dismantling of the Heat inside the paint, it would be a surprise if they didn't try to gain a similar advantage.
Led by ageless wonder Tim Duncan and another quality big man in Tiago Splitter, the Spurs should have no issue changing their game plan from past series and playing more through their big guys. The Spurs even have one of the best rebounding small forwards in the game in Kawhi Leonard, who has upped his game on the boards of late and is averaging eight rebounds a game in the playoffs.
Though he's now 37, Tim Duncan is still capable of being the centerpiece of an offense, and with the improvement that Splitter made this year (he registered career highs in points and rebounds), you can bet that Ginobili and Parker will run the pick-and-roll with the two big guys all series long.
“[The series] will be very physical,” said Duncan his pre-finals press conference, and this definitely favors the bigger Spurs.
I fully expect the Spurs to dominate the Heat in the paint the way that the Pacers did for all of the Eastern Conference Finals, but will that be enough for them to dethrone LeBron and beat the Heat?
I say no.
No matter their advantage on the boards, the Spurs need a huge series from Tony Parker to have a chance at beating Miami.
Unfortunately for San Antonio, this is easier said than done.
As Adi Joseph of USA Today pointed out, the Heat could have LeBron guard Tony Parker, and his length and strength could pose major problems for the small point guard.
Parker is the Spurs leading scorer in the playoffs, but no team the Spurs have faced has had a one-on-one defender capable of shutting down an opponent the way LeBron can.
Though James will be the most heavily scrutinized player in this series, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are the keys to this series. There is little doubting that LeBron will put up huge numbers every game, and if Wade and Bosh are able to play up to their ability as well, the Heat will prove impossible to stop over the course of the series.
Bosh will be tasked with slowing down Splitter and Duncan, as the lone starting-caliber big man on the team, and Wade, one of the best rebounding guards in the game for years, will have to play up to his talent level for the Heat to beat the Spurs.
As long as Wade and Bosh are able to be solid contributors for Miami, I fully expect the Heat to beat the Spurs. The series has a good chance to go to seven games given the Spurs superior depth and the Heat's inability to rebound the ball against bigger teams, but in the end, LeBron James and his supporting cast are too good to be denied their second championship in as many years.
No matter whether you think LeBron is a villain or a hero, this year's finals should be a great one, and one all fans should look forward to.
I know I am.