Before LeBron James could even get a second shot at Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs in the 2013 NBA Finals, the Miami Heat were on the brink of getting the shock of their lives. Surprisingly, they took Game 7 of the Eastern conference finals convincingly in a 23-point blowout. Even though the thought of the Heat in the Finals (again) led to groans across the world, this rematch should be exactly what NBA fans want—if for nothing else, a chance to root against LeBron…again.
Seriously though, four former Finals MVPs (James, Wade, Parker, and Duncan) will be battling it out for a match-up of what will be the best player in the NBA vs. the best team in the NBA. What more could we want?
Although the Heat rattled off 27 straight wins earlier in the year, clearly LeBron does not have the consistent supporting cast in the playoffs that he had in the regular season. That Game 7 of the ECF was a sign of a possible return to their midseason dominance. Despite Chris Bosh shooting an abysmal 3-13 from the field, Dwyane Wade returned to his thrasher-scoring game and dropped 21 and 9. But will a two-man show be enough against the Spurs?
San Antonio proved convincingly in their conference finals that they are the best in the West. The offense that Popovich has instilled gives Tony Parker the freedom to put up 20-25 shots a game (like he did in Game 7, shooting 15-21 from the field) but also provides him with a plethora of weapons both on the perimeter and in the interior. It should not come as a surprise if Parker puts up double-digit assists in the Finals as he did in Game 2 of the WCF where the dimes were dropping everywhere (18 total, a career playoff record for the three-time NBA champion). Popovich gives substantial minutes to nine players—all of which can score when called upon. From a three-point specialist like Matt Bonner to a Hall of Fame post scorer like Tim Duncan, the Spurs currently have the more well-rounded offense.
When playing their best game, however, Miami’s defense is a force to be reckoned with. An incredibly low 77 points for the Pacers in Game 7 is something that the Heat can make a reality on any given night for opposing offenses.
The supreme strength of Miami’s comes as no secret: LeBron James can power a team to wins—even if they are struggling to refocus their identity. On the grandest stage of the NBA, there is no time to waste time battling through nagging injuries, but there will always be the “King James Factor.” The Spurs simply do not have a good answer for him. Popovich found a way to slow the Warriors star, Steph Curry. Memphis’ primary scoring options were non-existent in the WCF (and I’m not convinced the Spurs defense can take much credit for that when Z-Bo couldn’t make a lay-up). The same formulae will not work against LeBron. Danny Green, who was a teammate of LeBron’s in 2009-10 on the Cavaliers, has a huge size disadvantage against Miami’s primary threat. A 250-pound train vs. a 210-pound shooter does not bode well for San Antonio.
Popovich probably won’t spend much time with Green on LeBron and will instead opt for the slightly bulkier Kawhi Leonard. While Leonard has developed into a solid perimeter defender, throwing him on LeBron in the Finals just does not feel like it will be enough. In the same way that Curry got the best of the Spurs in the beginning of the first round of these playoffs, maybe Leonard will slow LeBron initially…but realistically I don’t see it happening consistently (if at all) throughout the Finals. LeBron has talent and experience over any viable defender that the Spurs will throw at him. And some combination of Shane Battier, Ray Allen, Mario Chalmers, and/or Mike Miller will show up when LeBron showcases the great facilitator that he is.
Even if one of the lower thirds of Miami’s Big Three is a no-show occasionally, LeBron will make up the difference. He now has a well-developed post game to complement his relentless attack of the basket. And yes, he can make outside shots (41 percent from three in the regular season and 44 percent in the Eastern conference finals).
The home-court advantage will also tremendously favor the Heat. In a series that will in all likelihood go six or seven games, the Heat would play both of those final two possible games at home. The numbers just are not in San Antonio’s favor—the home team wins 80 percent of Game 7s.
I’m sticking with my pre-season pick. Even though I have become increasingly less confident as the playoffs have worn on, I still feel LeBron will find a way to bring home the regular season and Finals MVP for the second consecutive year.
Miami in 7.