By Angel L. Quiles Jr.
After a grueling 82 game season, an incredible playoffs, and the expulsion of a racist N.B.A. team owner. The teams that reached the mountaintop last year have arrived at the summit again. The Miami Heat, and the best all-around player in the game LeBron James, will square off against San Antonio Spurs and the greatest power forward of all-time Tim Duncan. This will be the Heat’s fourth straight trip to the championship round. For the Spurs it will be their sixth foray into the N.B.A. finals since 1999.
Last year the Spurs lost to the Heat in seven games, but the Spurs almost won it all in game six. They were so close former commissioner David Stern was ready to present them the Larry O’Brian trophy, their championship t-shirts were already printed, and their locker rooms were being plastic wrapped for the celebration. However, the Heat were able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, when Ray Allen made the biggest three-pointer in Miami Heat history. Two days later at American Airlines Arena they won the title for the second straight season.
This year the same cast of characters returns, but now it’s the Spurs who will have home- court advantage. According to many experts the Spurs have played the whole season with a bad taste in their mouths, and a chip on their shoulders. They want to prove they should have won the title last year. Duncan who usually never talks smack said, “We’ll do it this time”.
The series is set to begin Thursday night in San Antonio, on ABC at 9pm ET. Here are the matchups:
Point Guard- S.A. #9 Tony Parker vs. MIA #15 Mario Chalmers
This will be one of the most important matchups for the Spurs. Tony Parker needs to be healthy, if not the Spurs will lose. A healthy Parker forces the Heat to bring double teams, and that allows the Spurs deadly three point shooters to find open gaps behind the arc. If Chalmers is able to cover Parker one on one, Miami will be able to clamp down on the Spurs three point shooters, thus negating one of their biggest strengths.
Shooting Guard- S.A. #4 Danny Green vs. MIA #3 Dwyane Wade
Wade is averaging 18.7 points per game. He can abuse Green in the post, and when healthy is one of the top five players in the NBA. Green is an energy guy who loves to run around screens and shoot three-pointers, where he’s averaging a whopping 48 percent. Wade does a great job on defense getting into passing lanes, and plays a great two-man game with LeBron James. When the Spurs offense isn’t clicking Green tends to disappear from the game.
Shooting Forward- S.A. #2 Kawhi Leonard vs. MIA #6 LeBron James
Kawhi Leonard is an excellent defender, and has averaged 13.3 points per game this post season for the Spurs. Besides the Spurs big three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili, Leonard has been the key cog in keeping the Spurs on top of the Western Conference. He’s athletic, has the ability to shoot from three-point range, and can create his own shot off the dribble. Not to mention he gave Miami fits in last year’s finals. However, he will be matched up against last year’s finals M.V.P. LeBron James. James can do whatever he wants on the basketball court, and if Leonard doesn’t keep him occupied it will be a long series for the Spurs. Expect LeBron to add more fuel to his legacy in this series.
Power Forward- S.A. #21 Tim Duncan vs. MIA #31 Shane Battier
This is a miss-match that I don’t see continuing throughout the finals. There is no way that Battier can cover Duncan by himself, and Miami can’t afford to consistently double-team him. Therefore, look for a heavy dose of Malik Haslem, Chris Anderson and Chris Bosh on Tim Duncan. Duncan was sensational in last year’s final, and will need to be dominating again in order to back up his words.
Center- S.A. #22 Tiago Splitter vs. MIA #1 Chris Bosh
Bosh will need to be big down low, and behind the arc. He is the only seven-foot player who will start for Miami. He will need to play tough, box out defenders on rebounding opportunities, and be a rim protector. He can’t afford to be absent for any of these games, or Miami will have a difficult time competing against the Spurs, who love to abuse the painted area. Tiago Splitter is a huge reason why the Spurs are effective down low. His imposing seven feet frame allows the Spurs to get offensive rebounds, and extra possessions. He also allows Duncan the ability to roam around and help his teammates with his weak side defense. If Bosh is able to make his three point shots it will draw Splitter away from the lane, and allow Wade and LeBron to be more affective driving to the basket.
Benches- San Antonio vs. Miami Heat
The Spurs bench is lethal, and score more than 40 points per game. Ginobili was a nightmare against Oklahoma City in the last round. Boris Diaw provides defense, and smart offense. Marco Belinelli was quiet against Oklahoma, but was one of their best perimeter shooters all year. Miami does have the greatest three-point shooter of all time coming off the bench in Ray Allen. Rashard Lewis has decided to wake up, and is playing like he did back in his Orlando Magic days. Chris Anderson is a great defender, but does not provide much offense unless it’s on put backs or ally-oops. The winner of this series will be the team whose bench can keep the offensive pressure on the opposing team.
Coaches- S.A. Greg Popovich vs. MIA Eric Spolstra
Both Greg Popovich and Eric Spolstra have won multiple championships. Popovich is a drill Sargent who runs a tight ship, and brings the best out of his players. Spolstra manages egos better than anyone, and is a wonderful in-game manager. Spolstra has already beaten Popovich. Critics believe it was because Popovich made a mistake when he took Tim Duncan out of the game in the final seconds of game six, during the critical possession that lead to the Ray Allen three-pointer. Therefore, Popovich may have a little more edge, and a chip on his shoulder.
Expect another epic series between these two successful franchises. They have earned the right to be in the finals, and this rematch is well deserved. The Spurs have home-court advantage, and have had the better year in a tougher Western Conference. Miami has won two straight championship but they played in a mediocre Eastern Conference this year. Expect the Spurs to win in seven games.