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Pro Hoops Weekly Roundtable: NBA Finals Edition

Sports Staff |
June 6, 2013 | 4:21 p.m. PDT

Will Dwayne Wade play like he did in the 2006 Finals? (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
Will Dwayne Wade play like he did in the 2006 Finals? (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
Ladies and Gentlemen, it's finally here. It's been eight months in the making, but the NBA Finals have finally arrived. In one corner is the Miami Heat, the three "Superfriends" and their motley crew of veterans and role players. In the other corner is the San Antonio Spurs, with the Tim "The Big Fundamental" Duncan, his sidekick-turned-leader Tony Parker, and a eclectic mix of young, athletic players to surround the Spurs' own "Big 3". It's a few hours before game time and we know all of your pressing questions about the series aren't answered yet, so pull up a chair, put on some reading glasses, and see what our experts have to say about the Spurs-Heat faceoff. 

1) Which team do you think comes in with more momentum? San Antonio after sweeping the Memphis Grizzlies, or Miami after watching Dwyane Wade regain his groove as the Heat blew out the Indiana Pacers in Game 7 on Monday?

Law Murray: San Antonio certainly has the momentum, even though they haven't played since May 27. The Spurs are on a six-game winning streak, and they know what kind of team they are at this point in the postseason. Miami won a Game 7 to end a series that challenged them at least physically, and possibly intangibly.

Darian Nourian: While San Antonio should be the more confident team after sweeping the Memphis Grizzlies, who many thought would dethrone the Spurs, Miami is definitely the team coming in with more momentum. After a convincing Game 7 win over the Pacers, Miami not only has LeBron James at the top of his game, but also a rejuvenated Dwayne Wade, who struggled to put the ball in the basket in the first six games against Indiana. Miami will also have the luxury of staying at home and being able to hear their home crowd overwhelm a Spurs team that hasn’t played a game in a little over a week.

Matt Padavick: The Miami Heat come into this series with more momentum. The Spurs have been resting after a relatively easy series against the Grizzlies, while the Heat grinded out a tough series against the Pacers. Between the blowout and Wade finding himself in Game 7, the Heat are back on track and rolling. Some will say that due to the long series against Indiana, the Heat are going to be tired and worn down, but I believe that works in their favor. Miami enters the Finals a humbled squad, and a team that had some players find their rhythm throughout the series as James continued his dominance.

Jeffrey Sakakibara: The Miami Heat definitely have more momentum going in to the NBA Finals. The absolute domination by the San Antonio Spurs, coupled with a whole week off, is a legitimate reason to believe the Spurs to have momentum. However, Game 7 alone is a good indicator of how efficient and dominant the Heat can be when they are playing unselfish basketball. The mini-feud between James and Wade proved beneficial to the whole team, as Lebron immediately changed from a scorer to a facilitator. The biggest factor here is that the Miami Heat can now think back to Game 7 as a point of reference of how they should be performing. Unfortunately for the Spurs and for any other team for that matter, the Heat with confidence and direction are unstoppable.

Andrew Seah: Definitely San Antonio, as I've mentioned here (this is perfect you can link my other preview article here). Miami might have regained their footing and potentially resuscitated Dwyane Wade, but they took seven games to get there. Seven long, arduous battles that exploited cracks and deflated their key performers. Bosh and Wade are far from their best, and Battier went from essential small-ball floor-spreader to sideline cheerleader. And where Miami struggled, San Antonio soared. There is no better remedy for confidence and rhythm than a convincing sweep over the Grizzlies, a team that many favored over the Spurs. The Spurs are just so fluid and in control right now. 

2) What is the bigger mismatch? Tim Duncan against Chris Bosh/Udonis Haslem, or LeBron James against either Kawhi Leonard or Manu Ginobili?

Murray: The bigger mismatch from this selection has to be LeBron James against the Spurs' wings, but that's because LeBron is the four-time MVP going against a player who was playing at San Diego State two years ago. No disrespect to Ka-“whi so serious?” ... Now, the thought of Duncan being a mismatch for Bosh? Let's see if Duncan can actually shut down Bosh first, because in the four games Bosh has played against Duncan as a member of the Heat, Bosh has outscored him each time (17-11, 30-14, 30-8, 23-17). The Spurs won't sacrifice their identity just to try and exploit a matchup that might not be advantageous to them. Don't let the Indiana series fool you.

Nourian: LeBron James against Kawhi Leonard or anyone who, key word, “tries” to guard him. LeBron is genetically engineered to be the most dominant player in the league with his size and speed, and whether a little body (Danny Green, Gary Neal, or Ginobili) or a big body (Leonard or Boris Diaw) is put up against him, he is still going to be able to the rim and get his points regardless. Yes, the 21 year-old Leonard is emerging as an elite defender in the NBA, and many compare his stature to Paul George, who guarded James fairly well through the Eastern Conference Finals, but it is going to take a lot more than one person to put the breaks on the four-time MVP. 

Tim Duncan will need to dominate Chris Bosh down low (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
Tim Duncan will need to dominate Chris Bosh down low (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
Padavick: The bigger mismatch is definitely LeBron against anyone.  When you have one of the most dominant players in NBA history on your team, it doesn’t matter who is guarding them. It will always be a mismatch. Although Duncan has been a force throughout the season, Bosh and Haslem will have the advantage in athleticism, which may allow them to contain Duncan. James is bigger and more athletic than anyone on the court, which creates a huge mismatch for the Spurs.

Sakakibara: Tim Duncan against Bosh/Haslem will be the biggest mismatch and biggest factor to the outcome of the series. The one missing piece in the Miami Heat puzzle is rebounding. Evident in Game 6 against the Indiana Pacers, rebounding controls second chance opportunities, points in the paint, and most importantly, momentum. Tim Duncan’s height advantage along with his timeless consistency will lead to a long series for Bosh and Haslem.

Seah: LeBron James against anyone. Tim Duncan has been resurgent, and with his potent midrange game, can still cause problems for both Heat bigs. LeBron, however, is a two-way game changer who is bigger and/or faster than anyone the Spurs can put on him. Leonard is a very underrated defender, and is going to surprise many people out there, but LeBron's effectiveness will likely be determined more by LeBron than anyone else. And apart from the 21-year-old, the other alternatives - Diaw, Ginobili, Green or (gasp!) Neal - possess neither the long limbs nor the quick, skilled footwork that's required to ideally combat the MVP. Unless, of course, coach Popovich calls T-Mac's number for meaningful minutes. 

3) Outside of Manu Ginobili, which bench player will have the biggest impact on the series?

Murray: While Manu Ginobili is shooting a postseason career-low 38% from the field, Ray Allen is shooting a postseason career-low 39% from the field. These two players are the only bench players averaging double figures scoring in the playoffs for their respective teams. Miami didn't bring Jesus Shuttlesworth to South Beach for him to not have an impact on this series, and you know that Allen is happy not to deal with the Pacers' league best three-point defense any longer.

Nourian: First off, Ginobili is going to need to be able to pick apart the Heat’s rotations when he comes off the bench starting in game should the Spurs wanted to prove victorious. Outside of him though, I feel that the player that will have the greatest impact on the series, both physically and emotionally, will be the “Birdman”, Chris Andersen. He truly is that “spark” off the bench that the Heat bench and Miami crowd need, especially on the defensive side of the ball, where he can guard the paint and keep the Spurs’s bigs off the boards, something essential for the Heat’s success. On the offensive side of the ball, “efficient” would be an understatement to describe him, as he did not miss a shot against Indiana (15 in a row) until Game 7, finishing the series shooting a crazy 89 percent from the field. 

Padavick: The “Birdman” will definitely have the biggest impact on the series. If he can come in and continue his insanely efficient offensive play from the first three rounds (38-of-46 on field goals; 83 percent) while bringing the intensity on defense, the Heat are in good shape to take the series. He can help defend Duncan as well as make it difficult for Parker to get shots up when the French point guard attacks the paint. The Heat are also going to need him to be a force on the boards, as the undersized frontline will challenge guys like Duncan, Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter; all are guys who love to crash the boards.

It will be up to the sage, Gregg Popovich, to best utilize his array of bench contributors (RMTip21/Creative Commons).
It will be up to the sage, Gregg Popovich, to best utilize his array of bench contributors (RMTip21/Creative Commons).
Sakakibara: Chris Andersen and Ray Allen will have the biggest impact on the series. As Chris Bosh continues to fight an ankle injury and Dwyane Wade plays through his bone bruise, somebody else must step up as a scoring option. The Heat won every game against Indiana when Allen shot above 60 percent, and his efficiency off the bench is crucial to Miami’s success. None of those opportunities will come, however, unless Andersen can keep controlled aggression. Aside from his presence in the paint, Andersen’s intangibles affect the whole team’s body language and when the lead switches back and forth between teams, look for Andersen to start off a run.

Seah: If the question was 'might', then Ray Allen will be the best bet. He is due for a breakout game, and it's been hard to watch Jesus Shuttlesworth struggle so badly with his shot. Anyway to the original question, I'm definitely going with the sprarkplug with the dragon tattoo, Chris 'Birdman' Andersen. Can we just hail him as the single best mid-season pickup in recent memory? The numbers are telling: he is uncommonly efficient (second to LeBron at a ridiculous 28.19 PER), rebounding at a higher rate than Heat nightmare Roy Hibbert, and possesses an absurd 84 percent True Shooting Percentage (TS%). Andersen is essentially the entire Heat bench, and their home crowd truly comes alive whenever Birdman spreads his wings and takes flight. 

4) How much are you buying into Wade and Bosh's struggles, and how do you think they'll perform in the Finals? Is the supporting cast situation really as bad as LeBron's days carrying the Cavaliers?

Murray: How can you ignore the fact that, after shooting career-high field goal percentages during the regular season, both Wade and Bosh are well under 50 percent from the field while averaging career-lows in scoring? Wade's knee issues prevent him from being consistently aggressive, as he has cut his free throw attempts. I think Wade is dealing with a pain tolerance issue though, and he can facilitate well enough to be effective. Bosh is the bigger concern. I have no idea if he'll find his offensive game inside the arc, as he is going through perhaps the worst slump of his career. This is comparable to "Miami Cavaliers", but those Cavs had no pedigree of raising their play. This team is the defending NBA champion.

Nourian: LeBron’s going to get his, but he is going to need help. As we saw in Game 7, neither Bosh nor Wade are shying away from the opportunity to score. However, the new question to be asked is whether Wade or Bosh are still capable of producing a large scoring output night in and night out, especially against some of the league’s most elite defenders. We saw Wade struggle against the physicality of Indiana’s Lance Stephenson up until Game 7, while Bosh had trouble getting to the rim with Hibbert guarding the basket while struggling to find a consistent shot. I really don’t see this series panning out any differently for the two former superstars, as Wade will be guarded by Danny Green while Bosh will be matched up with Tim Duncan. 

Padavick: I don’t buy it at all. Dwyane Wade is a two-time NBA champion and is still one of the 10 best players in the league. Bosh is a Top 20 player and is one of the most skilled 4-men in the NBA. Wade had a breakthrough game in Game 7 after struggling for most of the series while Bosh is still struggling to find his game, but these guys are both All-Stars and will find their game on the biggest stage in the NBA. This Heat team is stacked with guys like Wade, Bosh, and Ray Allen while players like Norris Cole, Udonis Haslem, Mario Chalmers, and Shane Battier are very solid role players. Compare that to James’ former teammates in Cleveland. Guys like Daniel Gibson, J.J. Hickson, Ben Wallace, and Delonte West. Where are those guys now? Either out of the NBA, playing for a sub-.500 team, or even worse. The supporting cast for this Heat team is miles above those LeBron Cavs teams.

LeBron's teammates are struggling, but they're miles ahead of his Cleveland squads (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
LeBron's teammates are struggling, but they're miles ahead of his Cleveland squads (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
Sakakibara: I definitely bought into it after Game 6, as Dwyane Wade clearly looked frustrated at the amount of ball possession LeBron had. However, all was resolved when LeBron elected to give Wade the ball almost every time in the first quarter of Game 7. Not only did this create rhythm and confidence for a struggling Wade, but LeBron also made it clear that he’s here to play whatever style that wins the game. They will definitely emulate the perfect chemistry they had in Game 7, and the dynamic duo of James and Wade will be the toughest assignment on the Spurs agenda. With a supporting cast miles above that of Lebron’s Cleveland days, the Heat seem set for success.

Seah: Numbers don't lie, and it’s a fact that both Wade and Bosh are devoid of rhythm and form at the moment. Fortunately, Bosh’s one elite skill- midrange shooting - is the perfect weapon against a Spurs defense that's predicated on ceding such looks. The man formerly known as Flash seems oddly disengaged as well, although he did show us a flash (!) of the relentless rim-bound slasher we used to know. Both will show up, but maybe not to the heights we've seen from them during the regular season. LeBron's supporting cast is not anywhere remotely close to those horrible patchwork Cavalier squads. They are just going through a cold streak all at the same time. These things just happen, just ask last season's Spurs squad. 

5) Your prediction for the series?

Murray: I feel like Agent Zero flipping a coin here. Both teams will be challenged defensively in ways they weren't during the regular season. The Spurs benefitted from facing the 5th, 6th, and 7th seeds in the West. The Lakers (interior), Warriors (perimeter), and Grizzlies (grinding) were all one-dimensional offensive teams by time the Spurs got to them. The Heat faced unimpressive backcourts in Milwaukee, Chicago, and Indiana. I see Miami winning the turnover battle, the Spurs getting the boards, and the Spurs getting more consistent play throughout their team. This will be a fun NBA Finals based on talent, prestige, and strategy. I should be picking the Spurs, but it's been awhile since they've upset a team this good. I'll say the Heat, and the MVP, win Game 6 and 7 at home.

Nourian: “The Big Fundamental”, Timmy Duncan, stopped Lebron from getting his first ring, and he will also stop him from getting his second. With Miami seemingly once having the ideal personnel to win an NBA title, with three NBA superstars and an array of sharp shooters coming off the bench, San Antonio has the “team” to be able to win the championship. While the Heat have been distracted by a 27-game winning streak and the M.I.A status of two of their three superstars, San Antonio has been hiding in the background, like they always do behind their long-time head coach Gregg Popovich. In the end, the Spurs match up perfectly with the Heat, and their “calm and cool” style” will allow them to prevail in an emotional, roller-coaster series destined to be epic. Spurs in 6. 

Padavick: I’m taking the Heat in 6. With revenge on LeBron’s mind and Wade finding his step, I can’t see them losing. The more athletic and fast-paced Heat will play small ball, making it hard for the Spurs to keep up, and LeBron will continue to tear apart the NBA in fulfilling his quest for his second title.

Sakakibara: Heat in 5. It’s a bold prediction no doubt, and obviously everything depends on the first two games at home for Miami. Transition offense and bench production will offer no breaks to the San Antonio Spurs, and as much as I would love to see Tim Duncan earn his fifth ring, those men in South Beach can schedule another victory parade in the summer. 

Seah: The Heat, as they've shown throughout the course of the regular season and playoffs, are virtually unbeatable when firing on all cylinders. The main tenet of their dominance - elite shooters who don't compromise their defense - is missing at the moment. Spurs, on the other hand, are locked and loaded (and have been for the entire postseason). I pick San Antonio in a roller-coaster series, earning a well-deserved fifth ring for Duncan. Spurs in 6.



Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

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