Jun 06 2013

2013 NBA Finals: Heat vs. Spurs (The 1SKILLZ Gameplan)

I’m sure you all have enjoyed the NBA Playoffs this year, as I said you would after glossing over this year’s Bandwagon Report.

What’s that? Injuries ruined the playoffs?  Whatever.

The defending champion Miami Heat won the Eastern Conference title, sweeping the 8th seed Milwaukee Bucks (a sub-.500 who were healthier than the 76ers and Wizards), beating the 5th seed Chicago Bulls in 5 (a team missing Derrick Rose Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng), and winning Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals versus the 3rd seed Indiana Pacers (a team that had Danny Granger on the shelf). The other four Eastern Conference teams had serious injuries as well: New York Knicks (Amaré Stoudemire never really made it back from his knee surgeries), Boston Celtics (Rajon Rondo’s torn ACL exposed the Celtics’ lack of depth at point guard), Atlanta Hawks (Lou Williams’ torn ACL thinned out the Hawks’ bench), and Brooklyn Nets (they weren’t injured, but their feelings were definitely hurt after losing to a severely undertalented team at home versus the Bulls).

So basically, the Heat (the 2nd best offense in the league and the 9th best defense) got to face three of the worst offensive teams in the playoffs. Nice.

As you know from last year, I don’t excuse a team’s underachievement to injury alone! That being said, the San Antonio Spurs had even more of a cakewalk en route to winning the Western Conference title than the Miami Heat did. The Spurs pretty much received a first round bye against the 7th seed Los Angeles Lakers, who were down All-Star shooting guard Kobe Bryant due to a torn Achilles’. The Spurs then had a struggle against the 6th seed Golden State Warriors, a team that was hard to plan for once All-Star power forward David Lee was severely limited by a torn hip flexor. But once the Spurs read my report about how the Warriors had only one offensive advantage, it was a wrap. Now, I was equally wrong about the 5th seed Memphis Grizzlies having a chance to dethrone San Antonio in the Conference Finals, as the Grizzlies simply couldn’t make shots from anywhere on their way to the first sweep in the Conference Finals in ten years.  The other four teams in the West had compromising injuries as well: the Oklahoma City Thunder (All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook went down in Round 1 due to knee surgery), the Denver Nuggets (small forward Danilo Gallinari’s torn ACL was bad, but power forward Kenneth Faried’s ankle injury wasn’t a good look either), the Los Angeles Clippers (Blake Griffin’s ankle sprain), and the Houston Rockets (Carlos Delfino broke his foot in round 1).

So to recap: the Spurs got to face off against the 5th, 6th, and 7th seeds in the Western Conference, and those teams were all one-dimensional offensively by time the Spurs got to them (all Lakers could do was go inside, all Warriors could do was stay outside, and the Grizzlies could slow it down and keep their turnovers low, but nobody could score from anywhere). NICE.

So now we’re here. The background between these two squads resembles something of a cold war. The Heat swept the season series against San Antonio, but the first game in Miami was notable because Gregg Popovich decided not to dress Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, or Danny Green. It was the fourth game in five nights for San Antonio, and they were still competitive, losing 105-100. The Heat, shortly after their 27-game winning streak, returned the favor in San Antonio, as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Mario Chalmers took the night off. The Heat won that game too, 88-86, thanks to a big three from Chris Bosh. Manu Ginobili hasn’t played against the Heat since the 2010-2011 season!  And the Heat have won four of the five games against the Spurs since The Decision.

Let’s look at the breakdown:


San Antonio, unlike the other teams the Heat have faced this postseason, has shooters on top of shooters. The most important of those shooters is Danny Green, the only player on the team shooting over 40% from deep in the postseason and regular season.  But the major factor for San Antonio is the penetration of Tony Parker. James will find himself on Parker eventually, but Manu Ginobili will also be a penetration threat as well. Ginobili isn’t shooting well in the playoffs, but all of that shooting (Green, Kawhi Leonard, Gary Neal, Matt Bonner) is going to stress Miami and keep them honest in their pursuit to contain Parker. Advantage: Spurs


Spurs big men Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter probably enjoyed the beatdown applied to Chris Bosh and Shane Battier in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Spurs aren’t going to sacrifice their style of play offensively just to take advantage of Bosh and the lack of size up front for Miami, but Duncan and Splitter are already quite efficient and effective players. Bosh is an angular defender capable of blocking shots, as is Chris “Birdman” Andersen. It will be interesting to see whether or not the Spurs will care about crashing the offensive boards like the Pacers did. The Spurs prefer to get back on defense instead of offensive rebound, but that doesn’t mean they can’t sneak Duncan inside to challenge Bosh. Advantage: Spurs


This is where the Heat are a special defensive team. They force turnovers at an exceptional rate, and their length and athleticism is lethal when combined with focus and energy, as it was against a poor ball-handling team such as Indiana in Game 7. The Spurs have multiple ball-handlers and are the best passing team in the league, but they aren’t immune to turning the ball over.  James, Wade, and Chalmers are going to be in the passing lanes a lot. Advantage: Draw/Heat


The Spurs are an elite defensive team, but forcing turnovers is not what they do best. They have a couple of players who can force turnovers in Leonard, Green, and Ginobili, but they also have one of the least dynamic defenders at the point guard position in Tony Parker. The Heat also have an impressive set of players who can handle the ball well. The Heat offense can be inconsistent and stagnant at times (see: Game 6 at Indiana), so regardless of who is handling the ball (some combination of James, Wade, Chalmers, and Norris Cole), the Heat need to keep the ball movement and body movement going. Advantage: Draw/Heat


Duncan should have received serious consideration for Defensive Player of the Year, as he is an elite shot-blocker who doesn’t foul. Bosh’s career-worst stretch of play during the second half of the Eastern Conference Finals is a major red flag for the Heat. Bosh, not Wade, is the second most important player for the Heat.  The Heat have two premier perimeter players in James and Wade. They only have one premier frontcourt player, and that’s Bosh, who can shoot from the outside but needs to get his game going from within the arc to make his mark on his matchup with Duncan. Bosh has a history of torching Duncan, and his finesse style contrasts that of Zach Randolph and Dwight Howard, two players who were collapsed upon in their respective matchups against the Spurs. Andersen will have to make his presence made around the rim, especially when Splitter and/or Duncan are out of the game; Boris Diaw and Matt Bonner are not interior threats defensively. But the swing in this matchup comes into play on the boards. While the Heat are similar to the Spurs in their aversion to offensive rebounding (especially when Udonis Haslem is on the bench), the Spurs hit the defensive glass hard. The Heat can’t afford to rely on second chance points in this series. Advantage: Spurs


The Heat were one of two teams to have two players average over 20 points per game (the Thunder being the other). The bad news is that Dwyane Wade has cut his free throw attempts and general level of aggression while dealing with a bone bruise. The good news is that the Heat have the Most Valuable Player in LeBron James. James is a Swiss Army knife who can facilitate the offense, get in the post, shoot from the outside, and drive and finish at the rim and the foul line. The Spurs have bodies to challenge James, most notably Kawhi Leonard.  But the trump card for the Heat is that after getting the Pacers’ top-ranked three-point defense, they get some breathing room on the arc for Ray Allen, Chalmers, Shane Battier, and possibly Norris Cole and Mike Miller. As much as the Spurs are going to challenge the Heat with their perimeter slice-and-dice game, the Heat are going to stress San Antonio out with their spacing for James. If Wade is feeling good, it’ll be even more of a problem. Advantage: Heat


Logic says the Spurs have the better bench, but I’m not sure I’m going there just yet. The Spurs run 10-deep (starters, Ginobili, Diaw, Neal, Bonner, and Cory Joseph). The Heat may also run 10-deep with a similarly impactful lineup (Allen, Birdman, Battier, Miller, and Cole).  Allen and Ginobili are the only bench players for either team averaging double-figure points, but are both shooting career-lows from the field in the playoffs (both under 40%).  Ginobili still makes an impact with his ball-handling, passing, and dynamic play. If Allen can hit shots, then he’ll impact this series in a big way. Miller may get more of Battier’s time due to Battier’s awful postseason (he’s making less than 25% of his shots, and all but six of his attempts come from beyond the arc), but the Spurs are a better matchup for his slow release. While the Spurs are known for depth, I feel like Andersen and Cole are much better than Diaw and Joseph. The X-Factor will be whether or not the Heat shooters make shots, and these are unchartered waters for Joseph, Neal, Diaw, and to a lesser extent, Bonner.  Advantage: Draw/Heat


Gregg Popovich is the best coach in the NBA. He has had the Spurs in the playoffs for 16 straight years, which has included four championships in that span. He is able to coach his stars as if they’re undrafted free agents, benching Tony Parker and Tim Duncan at various points in the season while maintaining their mutual respect.  Erik Spoelstra has also never missed the playoffs as head coach of the Miami Heat, and his team has won three straight Eastern Conference titles, the first coach to claim that accolade since Phil Jackson left Chicago.  Popovich won three of four matchups against Spoelstra before The Decision, while Spoelstra has taken four of the five since. Pop has the respect that Spoelstra doesn’t always get, but I believe Spoelstra has done a great job managing his elite personnel, keeping them motivated and clicking throughout the season (66 wins, 27-game winning streak), and similarly managing the health of his star players.  Advantage: Draw/Spurs


The health of Wade and Bosh is a major factor here. If those players find a way to give the Heat two more weeks of their best basketball, then they’ll have four months to get over the health issues they face going into the offseason. The Spurs are rested after winning ten of their 12 postseason games, and they are still thought of as a championship caliber team. But the Spurs have never beaten a team as good as Miami in the NBA Finals, nor have they had to beat a player as dominant as the four-time MVP version of LeBron James. When James and the 2007 Cleveland Cavaliers were swept by the Spurs, James was only 22 and carrying a team that was relying on Larry Hughes and Zydrunas Ilgauskas as primary relief offensively.  The Heat having the best player, homecourt advantage, and the experience in the NBA Finals (only Birdman and Rashard Lewis have not been to the NBA Finals) push the intangible factor towards the Heat. Unless, of course, Tracy McGrady turns the clock back to 2003.  It’s been six years since the Spurs have been this far, and they aren’t known for pulling upsets since then. Only the 2010 team that beat the Mavericks as a 7th seed pulled any upsets, and that team was promptly swept in the second round by the Suns. Advantage: Draw/Heat


This is hard man. I really did have the Spurs winning this in 7, then the Heat in 7, then the Spurs in 6. It’s why I have adopted the phrase “All guarantees wrong or your money back!” This series is the first matchup of the entire postseason between two top-ten offenses and defenses, which is crazy but true.  The Spurs are the better defensive team (3rd), while the Heat are the better offensive team (2nd). In the end, I had the Spurs taking Game 1, Game 4, and Game 5. The Spurs will have a lead in this series. But the series will make its way back to Miami, and I really feel like the Spurs haven’t shown they can beat a team this good and this talented four out of seven times. They will show better than when they lost four straight to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2012 Western Conference Finals. I was wrong last year betting against LeBron James when Wade and Bosh were going through similar issues physically. If the Spurs beat the Heat this time around, it’ll be the biggest upset in the NBA Finals since the 2006 NBA Finals when a 52-win Heat squad knocked off the 60-win Dallas Mavericks team.  Prediction: Heat in 7.

Will Duncan establish his place as the best player since Jordan retired with five rings? Or will LeBron establish his place as the most dominant player since Jordan retired with his second Finals MVP to go with four MVPs?

Will Duncan establish his place as the best player since Jordan retired with five rings? Or will LeBron establish his place as the most dominant player since Jordan retired with his second Finals MVP to go with four MVPs?


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