2013 NBA Finals Preview: Miami (re)Heat?
The most hated team in basketball has done it again, making it to the NBA Finals for the third time in three tries in their Big Three era. The Heat easily cruised through the best regular season in franchise history and the first two rounds of the playoffs until they ran into the upset-minded Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Pacers may exposed some of their weaknesses in taking them to seven games, but we knew that either LeBron and/or David Stern (NBA conspiracies…they’re true!) wouldn’t let them advance to the Finals. Now it is time for Miami’s biggest challenge of the season: the old and crafty San Antonio Spurs.
Keys for Miami:
The Health of Dwyane Wade:
As seen in the last series against Indiana, Wade’s knee is definitely going to be an issue throughout the Finals. Wade averaged just 15 points along with fewer than five rebounds last series. Whether he is battling another knee injury, or simply in a race with father time, the days of “Flash” seem to be slowly fading. Like many physical guards that have played in the NBA (Allen Iverson is a good example), Wade’s body could very simply be breaking down due to his running back-style approach to the game. It is very odd to see a 20+ PPG scorer be so absent on the offensive end with so much on the line. Wade will need to be a lot more productive on both the offensive and defensive ends if the Heat want to repeat. If he is not able to perform, I find it very hard to see Miami coming away with a victory. Jordan needed Pippen – LeBron needs D-Wade.
“No rebounds, no rings” is a phrase coined by the Heat’s very own Pat Riley. Ironically, it is quite clear that this is his team’s major weakness. Despite their incredible season, the Heat ranked dead last in the rebounding department. The Pacers were predictably able to dominate on the glass throughout the series, showing that this might be the way to take down the almighty Heat. Due to Miami’s small-ball style of play, along with Chris Bosh being incredibly soft, a team that has any sort of height will be able to give them a good run. With the Spurs owning a size advantage at the front court with Tim Duncan, TIAGO SPLITTER (Stephen A. voice), and the slow but effective Boris Diaw, I expect the Heat to have another tough time on the boards. Miami does not necessarily have to outrebound San Antonio, they just need to keep the margin small. A team’s defense is only as good as a team’s rebounding, meaning Miami will have to put forth a lot of effort to keep the Spurs bigs off the offensive glass.
This aspect of the game has been Miami’s bread and butter all season. Although they have struggled with keeping teams off the glass, they have been able to make up for it by forcing a reasonable amount of turnovers. Creating turnovers allows Miami to push the ball into transition, leading them to use their athleticism for easy buckets on the offensive end. During the season, the Heat averaged 18.6 points off of turnovers, ranking third in the league. Miami is at its best when the tempo is fast, so the Spurs will be sure to try and slow it down throughout the game. The Spurs are exceptional at keeping turnovers to a minimum, averaging only 12 turnovers a night. This means Miami will have to raise their defensive intensity to maintain their same success rate. With the experience of Tony Parker and the San Antonio Spurs, this will be a difficult task to overcome.
Matchups to look out for:
Lebron James vs. Kawhi Leonard
It was difficult for Gregg Popovich to part ways with George Hill, but having a guy to guard elite perimeter players is imperative in this league. This was the sole reason why the Spurs acquired the athletic Kawhi Leonard. Leonard will take on the impossible task of slowing down the four-time MVP, something that very few people on this planet are capable of doing. LeBron seems to be maintaining his quality of play at the peak levels of his career, using his strength, speed, and intelligence to allow him to score at will. Unless James mentally checks out like he did in the 2011 Finals (highly, highly unlikely), I find it hard to see Leonard being able to contain him. Look for Leonard to try and force LeBron to take difficult fadeaways, contested jump shots, and keeping him off the low block. This is a lot easier said than done, folks.
Mario Chalmers/Norris Cole vs. Tony Parker
This might be the most important matchup for the Miami Heat. Tony Parker had an incredible season, and could very well have been in the MVP race if it weren’t for injury. Parker has been great throughout the entire playoffs, averaging 23 points along with seven assists per game. After 10 days of rest and recovery, he should continue to perform at a very high level. Point guard play is not one of the Heat’s strengths, meaning Chalmers/Cole must contribute in order to bring home another title. If both point guards are able to combine to match the play of Parker, the Heat should find themselves with another NBA championship. This may be unlikely, but that is why Chalmers/Cole are my x-factors of this series for the Miami Heat.
My Prediction: Spurs in 7
Ed. note: Steven Kerstein’s San Antonio Finals preview will run tomorrow.