The San Antonio Spurs have been waiting for quite some time to see whom they’ll face in the NBA Finals, but the matchup is finally set.
After an intense seven-game series with the Indiana Pacers, the Miami Heat prevailed. The heroics of four-time MVP LeBron James led the way for Miami, as Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh each provided lackluster performances.
The interior size of the Pacers proved to be a matchup nightmare for the Heat. Miami was the league’s worst rebounding team during the regular season, and that clearly did it no favors against Indy.
James and Co. will see a similar matchup problem as they prepare to face the veteran Spurs. The interior size of Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter will be a major X-factor in the series. No disrespect to Roy Hibbert or David West, but neither of those two players has the winning pedigree of Duncan.
TD aims to win his fifth NBA championship, while James charges his way toward ring No. 2.
The 2013 NBA Finals has no shortage of storylines, so let’s examine some bold predictions as the Heat and Spurs get set to square off for the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
One of the biggest storylines leading up to the 2013 NBA Finals is the long hiatus the San Antonio Spurs have been on.
The Spurs took care of business by sweeping the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference Finals (San Antonio’s second sweep of the postseason). As a result, the Spurs haven’t played a game since May 27.
Some pundits and fans believe that the long resting period will hurt the Spurs’ chances against Miami. Others think the break will help San Antonio, especially the veterans: Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.
In any case, people will jump to conclusions one way or another based on the outcome of Game 1. If the Spurs lose, then the rest was a hindrance. If they win, the time off will be seen as a blessing.
San Antonio doesn’t necessarily have to win Game 1, but I don’t believe the long rest will hurt the Spurs. They’re a veteran squad with Gregg Popovich, arguably the best coach in the NBA, at the helm. Additionally, the Big Three of Duncan/Parker/Ginobili have 10 championship rings combined.
It will take more than a week of rest to ruffle their feathers.
Dwyane Wade has struggled in the 2013 NBA playoffs. There’s simply no way to sugarcoat it.
Through three rounds, Wade is averaging 14.1 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game. Those numbers aren’t terrible, but Wade averaged more points, rebounds and assists during the regular season. Considering what Wade is capable of doing on a nightly basis, he needs to turn things around for the Heat to have a chance at winning back-to-back championships.
To be fair, Wade is playing through pain once again after aggravating a troublesome knee injury in the Chicago Bulls series. He clearly hasn’t shown the same explosiveness he has in the past, so his health is an area of concern for Miami moving forward.
Nevertheless, Wade stepped up when it mattered most in Game 7 against the Indiana Pacers. After scoring 20 points combined in Games 5 and 6, the nine-time All-Star scored 21 points on 7-of-16 shooting to punch Miami’s ticket back to the NBA Finals.
Remarkably, that was only the second time Wade had attempted at least 16 shots in the playoffs this year. When Wade looks for his offense, not only does he take pressure off LeBron James, but he also opens up scoring opportunities for key role players by penetrating to the basket and drawing in the defense.
I predict Wade will bounce back in the NBA Finals by averaging 20 or more points per game as he did during the regular season.
In addition to the struggles of Dwyane Wade, the third member of the Big Three, Chris Bosh, has had issues of his own.
The 6’11” forward-center has recorded double-digit rebounds just twice during the 2013 postseason. He snagged 14 rebounds in Game 3 against the Milwaukee Bucks and gobbled up 19 rebounds in Game 3 against the Chicago Bulls. The most rebounds he notched against the interior size of the Indiana Pacers, however, was eight in Game 7.
LeBron James already referenced having to go back to his Cleveland days in Miami’s Game 5 victory over the Pacers. In other words, he isn’t getting enough help (mainly from Wade and Bosh).
In fact, that’s a topic that James addressed directly in his postgame interview on TNT after Game 7. As he talked about challenging the other members of the Big Three, James said, “It’s us three at the end of the day. We have to put our team in a position to win, and I cannot afford to have you two (Wade and Bosh) struggle again.”
While Wade stepped up to the plate in Game 7, Bosh finished with just nine points on 3-of-13 shooting to go with those eight rebounds. It’s concerning to me that every time Bosh makes a basket, he celebrates as if he just won the lottery (or an equally poignant analogy for someone who’s set to make more than $19 million for each of the next three seasons). It tells me that he's lacking confidence and is relieved when the ball goes through the hoop.
The road won’t get any easier for Bosh moving forward, as he’ll square off with Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter. I predict Bosh will continue to struggle against the Spurs' interior talent.
When the San Antonio Spurs traded George Hill—Gregg Popovich’s “favorite player” at the time—they knew they were getting solid value in return with Kawhi Leonard.
The 6’7” wing out of San Diego State fits a unique archetype of NBA player that has become increasingly more valuable to league GMs. He’s long, athletic and a great perimeter defender who can knock down threes.
In a Grantland.com column, Zach Lowe called these prototype players “New Age Shane Battiers.” As role players, the versatility of guys like Leonard, Quincy Pondexter and Jimmy Butler adds tremendous value to NBA rosters.
Leonard has been proving his worth to the Spurs organization since day one, but he's truly shined in the postseason. In the 2012 NBA playoffs, Leonard averaged 8.6 points and 5.9 rebounds per game while shooting 45 percent from downtown. In the 2013 postseason, he’s upped the averages to 13.0 points and 8.0 rebounds per contest.
In the NBA Finals, Leonard will be tested like never before. Not only will he have to contribute on the offensive end, but he’ll also be primarily responsible for guarding four-time MVP LeBron James.
No player has the ability to stop LBJ. It simply can’t be done.
However, the 21-year-old Leonard can at least make James work for every point he scores.
There’s a ton of pressure on Leonard to perform well, but I think he’s up to challenge. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him have a breakout series.
This is far and away the boldest prediction on the list. I mean, picking against a team that Floyd Mayweather bet $5.9 million on mere days ago? That’s downright foolhardy, but you can’t say it isn’t bold.
The Indiana Pacers gave the Miami Heat all they could handle in the Eastern Conference Finals. While I have the utmost respect for the Pacers as a team, a key factor holding them back was experience. That’s something the Spurs have no shortage of.
As I mentioned earlier, the trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili has 10 championship rings combined. These guys know how to win on the brightest stage, and they’re back there for the first time since 2007.
You may recall that in 2007, the Spurs defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers (led by LeBron James) in a four-game sweep. James averaged 22 points per game in that series, but he shot a woeful 35.6 percent from the field.
LeBron is certainly not the same player he was in 2007, though. Not only is he older and wiser, but he also has a championship ring to his name. Not to mention he has a much better supporting cast in Miami than he did in Cleveland, but that’s if Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh play up to their potential.
James is the best player on the planet right now; picking against his team in any fashion is foolish. I get that.
However, if there’s a team in the NBA capable of defeating the mighty Heat in a seven-game series, the Spurs are that team.
If San Antonio manages to pull off the upset, Duncan will have won championship trophies 14 years apart.
That would be nothing short of amazing.