While the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat are entering the NBA finals on two contrasting paths, there are very few differences separating them.
In LeBron James and Tony Parker, each team has an unsolvable problem.
In Dwyane Wade and Tim Duncan, each team has a legitimate "secondary" superstar.
Each also has tremendous depth in role players who are capable of turning a game around in an instant. Each is efficient on both ends of the court, prepares well and has excellent coaching staffs.
This series has all the makings of a seven-game classic. Here's a look at what could be the key factor for each team in this even battle.
Miami Heat: Stay Small
This may seem rather blasphemous so soon after watching the Indiana Pacers obliterate the Heat on the inside.
Roy Hibbert averaged 22.1 points and 10.4 rebounds, David West chipped in 16.6 and 8.9 and Indiana did essentially whatever it wanted in the middle—a major reason why the series lasted the full seven games.
But while Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter are capable of doing major damage, they aren't built in the same way as West and Hibbert.
They have neither the strength of West nor the length of Hibbert. Duncan can post up, obviously, but he is more inclined to play the high post and knock down mid-range jumpers:
Just 40.18 percent of Duncan's shots in the playoffs have come from around the rim, which is a relatively low number for a big man.
Moreover, consider this stat, courtesy of Sports Illustrated's Rob Mahoney:
The Spurs have crashed the offensive glass slightly better in the postseason (22.0 offensive rebound percentage, up from 20.5 in the regular season) but are still far from being as effective in that area as the Pacers were (30.3 percent in the regular season).
As such, the Heat can feel comfortable running out a small lineup—which is what they use when they are at their best—without getting decimated on the glass or in the post.
They can move James to the 4 to play more athletes at the same time. They can get back to their scrambling defense and beautiful rotations in order to slow down the Spurs' terrific three-point shooting ability.
The Heat can confidently reclaim the identity that won them 66 games in the regular season.
San Antonio Spurs: Rely on Tony Parker
When a point guard is playing as well as Parker is playing, the entire team becomes more dangerous.
The Heat are going to do everything possible to mitigate the star point guard's impact, but it won't matter. He is playing at another level.
In 14 postseason games, he is averaging a 23.0 points and 7.2 assists on 47.5 percent shooting. In San Antonio's sweep of the Grizzlies, he ballooned those numbers up to a staggering 24.5 points and 9.5 assists on 53.2 percent shooting.
Moreover, he has an average plus/minus rating of plus-5.9 in the playoffs, third best on the team.
Coming off screens, Parker is nearly impossible defend. He's a threat for a quick three or an elbow jumper, but he can also drive and score or drive and find an open teammate. The Spurs always showcase terrific ball movement to find the best shot.
As a result of Parker's playmaking, the Spurs are first in the playoffs in both assist percentage and assist-to-turnover ratio.
There are a lot of matchups to watch in this series, but San Antonio's ball movement vs. Miami's athleticism, rotations and recovery ability on defense is going to be the crucial one to watch.
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