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2013 NBA Finals Preview: Spurs vs. Heat

June 6, 2013

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(Image modified from the original posted to philstar.com and credited to Jonathan Asuncion of NBA.com Phillipines)

Having been a die-hard San Antonio Spurs fan for nearly 40 years, I’m not the best person to provide an unbiased analysis of this year’s NBA Finals. Starting tonight, my beloved Spurs open their fifth trip to the league’s championship round, this time facing by far their most daunting Finals opponent ever: the Miami Heat.

As defending champions, the Heat are prohibitive favorites to beat the Spurs, who haven’t won a title since sweeping a much younger and inexperienced LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavalier squad in 2007. The Heat are much younger, much more athletic, and generally more talented than the Spurs – which is why 13 of the 18 “experts” at ESPN.com are picking Miami to win.

My heart wants to focus on the positives in the Spurs’ favor:

  • They’ve never lost an NBA Finals series, having won the title all four times they’ve made the championship round.
  • At 12-2, they’ve got the best record of all teams in this year’s playoffs – even better than Miami’s 12-4.
  • The gap in coaching acumen between Gregg Popovich and Lars Ulrich soundalike Erik Spoelstra is roughly equivalent to the width of the Gulf of Mexico between Texas and Florida.
  • Tim Duncan’s tank is topped off with turbo-strength emotional rocket fuel, given the impending end of his career and recent end of his marriage. He is loaded for bear, and the results may be similar to what happened when Jefferson’s car got trashed in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
  • Tony Parker is at his absolute career peak right now, playing at a level even exceeding his performance as 2007 Finals MVP. Unless the Heat want to have LeBron guard him the whole time, they will have no answer for Parker.
  • Manu Ginobili is 100% healthy for the first time since the only way to fly from San Antonio to Miami was by pterodactyl (at least it seems that long).
  • While no human exists who can completely shut down LeBron, Kawhi Leonard is about as physically equipped and capable as anyone alive. He will make LeBron work, and then some.
  • Teams entering The Finals having swept their opponent in the previous round (Spurs) are 4-2 all-time against teams coming off a Game 7 (Heat). That’s not the record for Game 1, it’s the record for the entire series.
  • Each of the Spurs’ previous four championships were won in odd-numbered years. This is 2013.

Now, having said all that, my head forces me to confront these unfortunate realities facing the Spurs:

  • The Heat have the home-court advantage in this year’s Finals, and went 2-0 against the Spurs during the regular season – including the second game, in which Dwyane Wade and LeBron both sat out.
  • LeBron has been waiting to avenge being swept by the Spurs in his first Finals for eight years. Winning the championship last year did not diminish his thirst for vengeance, because the team Miami beat in 2012 was not the Spurs. The only thing more dangerous than LeBron is relentlessly driven LeBron.
  • Miami’s bench is much more proven and battle-tested over the years than the Spurs’. Guys like Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Mike Miller, Rashard Lewis, and yes, even that walking freak show Chris “Birdman” Andersen are much less likely to wilt under the intense Finals spotlight than Matt Bonner, Gary Neal, Boris Diaw, and Cory Joseph.
  • Despite their gaudy 12-2 record this postseason, the Spurs have been absolutely atrocious on the offensive glass most games – a trend only likely to continue, if not worsen, when facing Miami’s athleticism.
  • As much as the lengthy post-WCF rest helped the aging Spurs, it even more likely enabled rust to set in, which may be hard for them to shake off enough to claim an all-important win in one of the first two games at Miami. Taking all three of the middle home games (3-5) is very difficult, so the last thing the Spurs need is to fall into an 0-2 hole.
  • The Spurs have to play almost flawlessly to beat the Heat. The Heat are young and athletic enough to overcome errors that will otherwise be the Spurs’ undoing, such as turnovers and cold shooting. It’s much more difficult to win a series when you have little-to-no margin for error (Spurs), as opposed to being able to win in spite of occasionally sloppy play (Heat).

So, while my heart says Spurs in 7, my head says Heat in 6. Which will be right? The head usually wins, but every now and then, the heart emerges victorious. I’m clearly hoping for the latter.

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