Don't expect many surprises. Don't expect many changes. These two teams enter with some different names on the roster, but the overall game plan will be the same. Both teams move the ball beautifully on offense and track and attack the ball efficiently on defense.
Neither you nor I knows what is going to happen in this series. It could come down to a single possession, just as it did last time. These two teams are so evenly matched that it likely will come down to just a few in crunch time.
I've heard a lot of people say the Spurs are better this season, and the Heat are not as good. That misses the mark. Basketball is a game of matchups, and that will still be the key to this series.
Both teams enter relatively healthy. Even though Tony Parker's health is in question, he has plenty of time to get rested up before tipoff Thursday.
So, following 195 combined games after the Heat took Game 7 in Miami, the two meet again for another go. A few key factors will decide which of these juggernauts takes home the ol' Larry O'Brien Trophy.
How Does Dwyane Wade's Health Change Things?
Unlike last season, Dwyane Wade enters the final round as healthy as he could be. Miami chose a season-long maintenance program for Wade over the top seed in the East. That's proven to be the right decision.
A healthy Wade gives the Heat a key off-ball contributor. You already know how Wade times his cuts to find easy lanes to the basket. He also provides key drive-and-kick opportunities for Miami's three-point shooters.
Having Wade moving comfortably on both knees also allows him to take over the scoring load—as we have seen many times already this postseason—and provide useful rest for LeBron James.
At 32 years old, Wade is still an All-Star on both ends of the court. His health has a ripple effect on how the Heat set up their offense and how they defend.
Wade provided key on-ball defense on Lance Stephenson and Paul George, and his defense will be key to limiting Manu Ginobili and Danny Green's smoking right hand.
But his on-ball defense will be a short sample of what Wade will have to do. With the constant ball movement of the Spurs and Miami's commitment to help defense, Wade's strengths will be on display.
His activity on defense is disastrous for opposing offenses.
In the end, Miami's maintenance of Wade could prove to be the tipping point.
Do the Heat Take What's Given? Or...
The Spurs have dared James to shoot the mid-range jumper by backing up and cutting off the driving lanes.
After putting in the work, James finally broke through in the latter half of last season's NBA Finals. He started shooting the jumper without hesitation.
Given that San Antonio was a historic shot away from winning the thing, I assume the Spurs would take a similar approach this time around.
"They are gonna give you certain shots, but you can't take it every time," Wade told reporters after practice. "We found that out later on in the series."
Sometimes the Heat need to take them, and sometimes they need to keep moving the ball and not bite at the bait.
But in a series almost void of new wrinkles, Kawhi Leonard may provide one. If he can bother The King enough, the Spurs may be able to take the throne. A showdown between Leonard and LeBron seems inevitable.
James could counter it by trying to get passes around the tennis rackets Leonard calls hands or by taking him head-on the way he took on Indiana's George.
Leonard isn't quite the athletic equal of James, but he's darn close. It'll be interesting to see how often James goes at him intelligently and aggressively, rather than passively.
For James and the rest of the Heat, they will need to resist the temptation for an open jumper and invest in some ball movement to get more efficient shots.
Who Has the Better Three-Point Shooting?
Green and Allen's three-point-shooting show last year was exhilarating. The long ball will be a major factor again this time.
Both of these teams are among the best in the NBA at making threes and moving the ball to get efficient shots from the corner.
Miami has attempted a playoff-high 115 corner threes, while San Antonio has shot 99, per NBA.com statistics. Corner threes indicate good ball movement, and both teams are among the league's best (and each is converting on more than 43 percent in the postseason).
Can Miami's Bench Hang with San Antonio's?
Both of these teams are headlined by stars but relied on a cast of supporting players to get this far.
San Antonio's bench is averaging 19.8 minutes per game in the postseason, the most of any other playoff team. Miami is averaging 17.2 minutes per game, good for fourth. Both starting units are in the bottom three of minutes per game, according to NBA.com stats.
Meanwhile, the Spurs bench of Ginobili, Marco Belinelli, Boris Diaw, Matt Bonner and Patty Mills played a crucial role for San Antonio this season. Many think the depth of the Spurs gives them the edge.
Ira Winderman of SunSentinel.com, however, doesn't believe depth will provide much of an edge in the series:
But what makes the Spurs' depth unique is the way they go out of their way to play Manu Ginobili off the bench. So Dwyane Wade winds up having to chase Danny Green early, and then Ginobili enters to inject life into the second unit. And Boris Diaw also is a starting-quality talent who comes off their bench. Plus, Patty Mills looms as far more than a towel-waver in this year's Finals rematch. All of that said, the Heat's top three off the bench -- Chris Andersen, Norris Cole and Ray Allen -- each have had their game-changing moments this postseason. Yes, the Spurs get more out of their bench, but that's only because the Heat rely far more on their starters (but not to the degree the Pacers' did in overusing their starters). With five days off before the Finals and then a two-day break between Games 1 and 2, I'm not sure that depth will be as necessary, at least at the start of the series.
While I see Winderman's point, I take a different stance. He is focusing on the fact that the Spurs bench has served to rest the starters this season. But it also has scoring potential and will likely outscore its counterpart.
The Heat bench is the top-rated bench in the playoffs according to NBA.com, but Miami hasn't faced nearly the same competition as the West offered.
Both teams have solid depth, but the way Popovich uses his reserves is Jedi-like. Miami's bench, basically, needs to make sure the starters don't face an uphill battle upon their return to the court.
This is an interesting series of individual matchups and differing team philosophies that should prove as entertaining as the first. The X's and O's won't yield any surprises, but these next few games are sure to deliver.
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