The direction of the 2013 NBA Finals will be irrevocably changed after Game 4.
Either the Miami Heat are going to level the series, or the San Antonio Spurs are going to jump out to a commanding 3-1 lead and all but lock up the NBA title.
Coming into the Finals, many would have thought that each game would be a dogfight with little separating the teams. Instead, we've seen a very good Game 1 followed up by two blowouts.
Each team's biggest flaw has been exposed in a major way. Even after the Spurs' 36-point win on Tuesday, it's still clear that the Heat can win their third title if they play up to their potential.
Both head coaches have had to go back to the drawing board on multiple occasions during this series. When they think they have everything solved, another problem rears its ugly head. Right now, they're only focused on Thursday night.
Here is the most important objective for each team in Game 4.
San Antonio Spurs: Get Tony Parker Going Offensively
There doesn't seem to be any threat of Tony Parker missing out on Game 4. SportsCenter reported the point guard will be suiting up for the Spurs:
THIS JUST IN: Tony Parker (hamstring strain) says he'll "be ready to go" for Game 4 of NBA Finals tonight.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 13, 2013
That's a huge boost for San Antonio. One of the best things about the blowout in Game 3 was that Gregg Popovich was able to rest Parker and Tim Duncan. They were only on the court for 27 and 29 minutes, respectively. Considering the wear and tear on their bodies this season, getting to sit them on the bench for such a sustained period of time—and win—is a huge bonus.
Hopefully for the Spurs, it will mean Parker raises his game a little bit. He was good in Game 1, going for 21 points and six assists, but he's only had a combined 19 points since. That obviously didn't cost San Antonio in Game 3, but it could prove pivotal tonight as the Heat try to counter San Antonio's perimeter shooting.
Gary Neal and Danny Green had great shooting performances in Game 3, but it's unrealistic to expect that kind of showing again. Neal is a good three-point specialist and Green has been very impressive all series, but can they really have another 6-of-10 and 7-of-9 night from behind the arc?
With the Heat likely keying on Neal and Green, it's going to be up to Parker to get to the basket and score. Miami's defense won't be as blasé, and if they are constantly forced to watch and collapse on Parker, that will help to keep the Spurs' shooters open on the perimeter.
Miami Heat: Help Out LeBron James
One of the worst parts of this series is that it has allowed all of the LeBron haters to come out and say things like this, per ESPN's Skip Bayless:
What ever happened to LeBron James?— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) June 12, 2013
To a certain extent, the critics like Bayless are right. Just look at how James' scoring has dropped in the Finals compared to the rest of the postseason, per ESPN Stats & Info:
LeBron James: 16.7 PPG in NBA Finals, 26.2 PPG in 1st 3 rounds this postseason— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 13, 2013
The Spurs are doing a great job of forcing LeBron to shoot perimeter jumpers and pass out to his teammates. Up to this point, James is missing those outside shots, and his teammates not named Ray Allen and Mike Miller are largely letting him down.
LeBron is not Michael Jordan. He's not going to go for 50 points and put the team on his back in terms of scoring alone. James will score 30 points while finding his teammates for open shots. That's just the kind of player he is.
There's no doubting James needs to score more. He's the best player on the planet and the unquestioned leader of the Heat. As such, he has to step up and play much better.
That's unlikely to happen if Miami can't provide him some help. Dwyane Wade has improved a little bit in the Finals, but he should still be doing more, as should Mario Chalmers, excluding his massive Game 2 performance.
If it's all up to LeBron hitting outside jumpers again, the Heat are toast.