5 Factors That Will Determine the 2013 NBA Finals Winner
The Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs will take to the NBA's grandest stage as they vie for a chance to hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy as the champions of the basketball world.
While the Spurs figure to reap the rewards of a 10-day layoff between games, the Heat will be forced back into action after just two days.
The Spurs will undoubtedly have an edge when it comes to game-planning and scheming early in the series, but as always, the Heat will counter with adjustments of their own.
In a near dead-even matchup of two experienced and well-coached clubs, there are several key factors to consider before the series gets underway.
San Antonio's Size
Save for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Indiana Pacers torched the Miami Heat on the glass.
With the San Antonio Spurs possessing size comparable to that of the Pacers, the Heat figure to be in trouble on the boards once again.
While the Grizzlies did outrebound the Spurs by 21 in the Western Conference Finals, Memphis may have had the most imposing frontcourt of any playoff team. Facing the Heat, a team that finished dead last in rebounds per game during the regular season, the Spurs should wreak havoc on the glass in the finals.
Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter and Kawhi Leonard will all be key on the glass. A point of emphasis for the Spurs should be creating second chances off of offensive rebounds, just as the Pacers did.
Indiana was able to exploit the Heat's size en route to a 54-rebound edge over the course of their seven-game series.
If the Spurs can replicate that margin, they'll likely emerge with the Larry O'Brien Trophy in tow.
Battle Beyond the Arc
Both the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs excel at shooting the three, as evidenced by their numbers this postseason.
The Spurs (36.2 percent) and Heat (35.6 percent) rank second and third, respectively, in team three-point percentage in the playoffs, as Gregg Popovich and Erik Spoelstra both implement schemes that space the floor.
For Miami, the onus will be on Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole and Mike Miller. Cole has shot a team-best 57.7 percent from beyond the arc during the playoffs (among players with 20 or more attempts), while Allen has connected on 36.5 percent of his looks from distance.
However, Chalmers (30.6 percent) and Miller (27.8 percent) have both struggled to find their stroke from deep.
One player the Heat will lean on to pick up the slack is Chris Bosh. The rangy center has been true on 48.4 percent of his threes during the postseason and could play a significant role as he attempts to draw the Spurs' bigs away from the basket.
On the other side, San Antonio has a wider range of contributors to lean on from beyond the arc. Three of their players with 20 or more attempts from deep have shot better than 40 percent to this point (Matt Bonner, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard).
To add to the Spurs' lethal attack, Tony Parker has shot 37.5 percent from three.
There's no doubting that the Spurs have a more potent attack from beyond the arc. Unfortunately, there's one factor working against them.
In the playoffs, the Spurs have allowed opponents to shoot 33.6 percent from three, nearly identical to the league average of 33.7 percent.
The Heat have been far stingier when it comes to guarding the three. Miami's defense has limited opponents to a 32.5 percent three-point conversion rate, a statistic that bodes well for the team's chances moving forward.
Production of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh
The most notable storyline to emerge during the Eastern Conference Finals was the lack of production the Miami Heat received from two-thirds of their Big Three.
To this point in the playoffs, the Heat have been 5.2 points better per 100 possessions offensively when Wade has been off the floor, according to NBA.com's stats database. That trend needs to be reversed if the Heat want to have any chance of capturing a second consecutive title.
However, Game 7 inspired confidence that Wade will be able to recapture some of his pre-injury form. He scored 21 points (7-of-16 shooting) and pulled down a game-high nine rebounds (six offensive) to cap off a series victory.
Bosh, on the other hand, hasn't inspired confidence. His performance in Game 7 was particularly concerning. Bosh converted on three of his 13 field-goal attempts in the series' decisive game, posting a line of nine points and eight rebounds over 30 minutes of action.
With upcoming battles against stout interior presences like Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter, Bosh will need to step up in a big way.
As mentioned previously, Bosh has been most effective when used to stretch opposing defenses out to the three-point line or short corner. If the eight-time All-Star can harness some physicality to frustrate the Spurs' bigs on top of that, he'll have a chance to erase his poor performances from the memories of keen observers.
When two of the league's stingiest defenses clash, possessions will be at a premium. The San Antonio Spurs have allowed opponents to score 91.5 points per game in the playoffs, while the Miami Heat have surrendered a meager 87.6 points per game.
Turning the ball over will be of paramount concern to both the Heat and Spurs, but one team has done a markedly better job of taking care of the ball during the playoffs.
As a point of reference, the Spurs, who have played two more playoff games (14) than the Golden State Warriors, have turned the ball over 30 fewer times.
The Heat have turned the ball over 216 times over the course of 16 playoff games, good for a rate of 13.5 turnovers per game.
With San Antonio committing just 12 turnovers a game, the Heat will need to ramp up the pressure on defense in order to get out in transition.
Both groups like to push the pace and get out in the open floor, so whichever team makes more mistakes in the half court will likely go home empty-handed.
LeBron James vs. Tony Parker
The NBA Finals are where superstars are called upon to elevate their play to new heights.
LeBron James and Tony Parker are no strangers to this massive stage. Parker is a three-time champion with an NBA Finals MVP to his name, while James is seeking a second consecutive ring and Finals MVP for his trophy case.
James' most efficient season to date has seen him torch postseason opponents to the tune of 26.2 points (on 51.4 percent shooting), 7.3 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 1.6 steals per game.
Parker hasn't been too shabby himself. Through 14 playoff games, the French point man is averaging 23 points (on 47.5 percent shooting), 7.2 assists and 1.2 steals per contest.
While Parker may not be James' primary defensive assignment, it would be surprising if Erik Spoelstra didn't feel the need to hound Parker with James' athleticism, strength and size during crucial stretches.
James is capable of guarding all five positions, and he'll likely have to do so for the Heat to combat the Spurs' multitude of scoring options.
The Spurs' lethal pick-and-roll action is initiated by the deceptive Parker, and if there's one thing the Heat need to defend, it's high-low pick-and-rolls.
San Antonio shredded Memphis when it overcommitted on the ball-handler, and Miami can't afford to make similar mistakes.
It's on LeBron to quarterback the defense, which is where this series will be won or lost.