Miami Heat Stars Being Exposed vs. Dominant San Antonio Spurs Team

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Miami Heat Stars Being Exposed vs. Dominant San Antonio Spurs Team
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In four-time MVP LeBron James, the Miami Heat have the best player on the planet and the premier talent in the 2014 NBA Finals.

The King leads all scorers with a blistering 27.5 points-per-game average over the first four games. The San Antonio Spurs are scorching hot on offense, but none of their gunners are firing quite like James: 60 percent from the field, 61.1 percent from distance.

For good measure, James has also paced the Heat in rebounds (7.3), assists (3.8) and steals (2.5). He's consistently played the part of a superstarnever failing to score at least 22 points or shoot worse than 52.9 percent from the floor—a claim no one else on either side of the series could make.

James isn't the only thing the Heat have. There's also the historically insurmountable 3-1 hole Miami has fallen into, plus its unsightly 18.3-point average margin of defeat in those three losses.

The Heat might have unquestionably the biggest and brightest star in the series, but the Spurs have unquestionably the better team.

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There's a brilliant balance in San Antonio's collective approach.

Both teams have five players averaging double-digit points in the series. However, the Spurs have nine different players tallying at least 4.8 points a night. The Heat? Just those same five double-figure scorers.

Miami bet the farm on its superstar contingent trumping the combined strength of any opponent. The Heat figured their quality was high enough, that it could be immune to quantity. This is a league historically dominated by teams with transcendent talents, after all.

But Miami never ran into an opponent as deep and versatile as this San Antonio squad. Few teams in NBA history ever have.

The Spurs have stars, but none that need to shine. Tony Parker, the team's lone All-Star selection this season, has attempted a team-high 13.8 field goals per game in the series. There were 42 players who averaged more shots during the regular season, maybe a handful of which pack more of an offensive punch that San Antonio's savvy floor general.

On talent alone, Parker could potentially take on another five shots a night easily. He's hitting on nearly 52 percent of the ones he's taking.

The best Spurs' shots don't necessarily come from Parker, though. Rather, they belong to the open shooter, no matter who that is or how many passes it takes to find them.

"They're a very unselfish team," Chris Bosh said, via Hal Habib of The Palm Beach Post. "...They're playing beautiful basketball right now."

It's almost incredible to hear Bosh label San Antonio's offense as such. It's not because the big man is wrong but rather because what the Spurs are doing is so much different from the Heat's approach.

The Heat are playing the waiting game with their superstars. Far too often, that's as simple as calling James' number and waiting for him to generate some type of offense.

There are some other elements involved, too.

There's the waiting for Dwyane Wade to get some type of lift back into his 32-year-old legs. It's about starting to look like the player who steamrolled through the last nine games leading up to the Finals (20.2 points on 54.0 percent shooting) and not the one that labored to a 10-point, 3-of-13 shooting performance his last time out.

There's also the waiting for Chris Bosh's involvement to start better reflecting his talent. This means squeezing more life out of his .595/.625/.889 series shooting slash than just 9.3 field-goal attempts per game.

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There is no waiting on San Antonio's side. Patience, yes, but that's always coupled with a sense of urgency. When things are going this well—119.2 points per 100 possessions, well, via NBA.com—there's simply no reason for hesitation.

The Spurs are hunting shots not on the strength of their individual parts but that of their combined sum. They're putting on a passing clinic that the Heat can't stop defensively nor replicate at the opposite end.

Through four games, San Antonio has passed the ball 1,422 times, according to NBA.com's SportVU player tracking data. Miami has made only 1,052 passes in the series or nearly 93 fewer per game.

The Spurs are making productive passes, too. They have 40 more assists than the Heat (102-62) and another 22 additional secondary (or "hockey") assists (33-11).

There's a method to San Antonio's madness, and it goes beyond simply keeping everyone involved.

"They pass to survive, to keep the elite defenses off balance, to create the open shots that otherwise wouldn't be there," Bleacher Report's Howard Beck wrote. "They dutifully adhere to Popovich's mantra: to pass up good shots for great ones. And they do it better than anyone."

Passing is a safety valve for the Heat. If James or Wade can find their own shot, the Heat will gladly take them. If not, the hope is that their stars will attract enough attention to free up one of their far more limited offensive weapons.

Miami hasn't fared very well with James on the floor (minus 13.3 points per 100 possessions), but it's been a disaster when he sits (minus 23.6 points per 100 possessions), via NBA.com.

The Spurs have no individual barometer. Three different players (Parker, Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard) have led them in these first four games. Another (Manu Ginobili) leads the team with a mind-boggling plus-42.7 points per 100 possessions net differential, via NBA.com.

Still another could walk away with the Finals MVP award:

The Spurs are running coach Gregg Popovich's power-in-numbers plan to perfection, and the dangerously top-heavy Heat have had no answers.

Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick explained:

Gregg Popovich's squad has taken the game to a higher plane, stretching the halfcourt to spread Miami out, speeding the tempo with quick, pinpoint passes, and screening, cutting and shooting at a level that would have caused John Wooden to applaud. They hold the ball for less time than Popovich takes to answer a silly question. 

And that says nothing of what they're doing on defense, baiting the Heat into their worst isolation tendencies.

This is the Spurs' masterpiece, their Mona Lisa, and the Heat can't seem to stop staring.

The Heat can't seem to stop anything at the moment.

Six different Spurs snipers are shooting at least 38 percent from beyond the arc. Seven San Antonio regulars are hitting at least 48 percent from the field.

The shot-making has been incredible, and the passing has been even better.

"The last two games were as close to perfect performances as we have seen in a long, long time, two pristine testaments to trust built over time," Eric Koreen of the National Post wrote. "...The concept of passing might be named the Finals MVP."

The Spurs are playing at a gear the Heat might not have in their motor.

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It's hard to say definitively that James cannot elevate his game, but it's awfully high as it is. The same questions about Bosh's passiveness have surrounded him since his 2010 arrival in South Beach. Wade has had his moments, but his body looks ready for summer break.

The Spurs' machine won't be slowing down. There are enough hands on the assembly line to keep production rolling smoothly.

The Heat must find a way to match that production, despite having far fewer bodies involved. Then, they have to figure out how to repeat the process two more times.

Miami's margin for error could not get any slimmer—not with the numbers game tilting so far toward San Antonio.

As James discovered during his first championship bout with the Spurs in 2007, defeating San Antonio is far more than a one-man job. It takes a village to topple these Spurs, and even the Heat's recognizable faces can't mask their population problem.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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