Ray Allen. Clutch.
Those were the words that echoed in the throbbing minds of the San Antonio Spurs after their season basically came to an end after losing Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals when being only 28 seconds away from being crowned the champions. There was of course Game 7, but no one expected the Spurs to be the same after their loss in Game 6 and they clearly weren’t.
Fast forward one year and we’re back once again. It’s like deja vu. The Spurs and the Heat meet again in the 2014 NBA Finals. After last year’s demoralizing loss, everyone expected Pop and crew to make their way back to the Finals and their arch-rival from last year made their way back as well, but is this rematch really the same as last year? There has to be something different right?
The NBA Playoffs this year showed us that there are many differences from last years’ match-up. Let’s start with the Eastern Conference and the Reigning champs – the Heat. In 2013, the Heat had a tough road to the finals, as they were matched with a grind out, big, tough Indiana squad in the Eastern Conference Finals that was hungry to be crowned the new king. However, last year they proved that they were superior in 7 games after a difficult test from the Pacers. Compare this, to 2014. In 2014, the Heat eventually did end up facing the Pacers once again in the Eastern Conference Finals, but it’s almost foolish to try and compare the dismantled Pacers team from this year to last year’s squad that took the Heat to 7 games. Basically, the message here is that the Heat had no one that could match up with them on the Eastern Conference and breezed through the playoffs. Now, some may contest that this would be a great thing because it would give the Heat tons of rest and time to prepare for the Finals. However, their opponent is the Spurs. Their competition on the Eastern Conference cannot compare to the well oiled machine that the Spurs are. I feel that this is where the Heat are going to struggle – their under preparedness. Another big concern for the Heat is their team support and bench production. We all know the Heat have 2 studs in LeBron James and Dwayne Wade, and a trusty third wheel in Chris Bosh, but who else do they have that can produce? Mario Chalmers? Shane Battier? Norris Cole? These are some of the big components that helped them outlast the Spurs last year, but are they really ready to repeat their performance? It seems not as Miami’s bench production is significantly down from last year and some of their key acquisitions from last off season like Greg Oden and Michael Beasley have hardly played in the playoffs. If the Heat want to attain a three-peat, they are going to need a huge contribution from their bench.
On a positive note, however, the Heat do have some things going for them in this series. The 2o14 NBA Finals will kick off with Tim Duncan at age 38, Manu Ginobli at age 36, and Tony Parker age 32, whereas the Heat’s best players are significantly younger. Here is a place where they can clearly take advantage of their athleticism and outrun the Spurs. Furthermore, coach Erik Spoelstra gave us a little Popovich impression this past season by resting star Dwayne Wade for about a third of the season and so far in the playoffs, it’s looked like it has been paying off. Dwayne Wade’s production in 2014 has gone up in all categories and he is even shooting over 50 percent from the field. With about a five ppg jump from 2013(18.9 – 23.7), D. Wade has certainly put a stamp on this postseason.
Now shifting gears to the Spurs, they have a lot of concerns on their plate as well. The Spurs are significantly older, slower, and less athletic. Tim Duncan looks like he’s 50, Manu Ginobili is going bald, and Tony Parker has been getting injured left and right. The latter is probably the biggest concern for the Spurs in the Finals. Will Tony Parker be healthy for the Finals? During Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, Tony Parker was diagnosed with a soreness in his left ankle and sat out the rest of the second half of that game. Now the big question is, will Tony Parker be ready for Game 1 of the Finals on Thursday? Along with this lingering question, the Spurs have some gaping holes in their game. Starting with the offensive end, they are heavily dependent on their bench, which is great that they get such production from them, but so far in these playoffs, their bench has been like day and night, at home and on the road. For example, Danny Green, the three point specialist who shined in last year’s Finals, has been shooting over 40 percent from three at home, and under 30 percent on the road. On the defensive side of things, the Spurs need to find a way to contain the best basketball player on the planet – LeBron James and how will they do it? I have no idea. I believe they will matchup big with LeBron and put defender after defender on him and possibly even convert their defensive scheme to some type of zone, but it is left to be seen if they can actually control the athletic Heat star. If the Spurs want to avoid a collapse in this year’s Finals, these issues need to be answered and resolved.
So who is going to be crowned World Champions in 2014?
The Spurs are definitely laden with concerns, but after considering all aspects of this rematch from last year, they are my pick to take the Finals in 7 games. The Spurs have a home court advantage and in the Finals it will be a significant advantage. If Tony Parker is healthy, which I believe he will be, Kawhi Leonard continues his stellar rise to stardom, and the Spurs’ bench is as productive as they were in the regular season, it seems that the Spurs just have way too many advantages over the Heat, which incline me to go with them as my champions for 2014.