Thursday, June 5, 2014

NBA Finals Chronicles, Thursday June 5

With or without the headband, are we in for a historic LeBron James takeover? Photo from
I began this series in 2012, and caused myself to commit something that I didn't realize would be so hard for the next two years. See, because the 2011-12 NBA season was shortened due to the lockout, the Finals began on a Tuesday, the day after my last final exam. As I found out last year, in a normal season, the championship actually begins right smack in the middle of my finals week, which means I had an awful experience trying to study and write an article everyday. As a high school junior, I really shouldn't be doing this right now.

But hey, I dug my own grave here. Let's get on with it.

First of all, this seems eerily similar to last year's series, as it has been exactly 365 days since the 2013 Finals began. Once again it features the San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat representing their respective conferences, and the outcome of the series will the legacies and futures of the players involved, moreso than a normal championship series would. As was the case last year, the Heat are coming off closing out a series against the Indiana Pacers at home to advance to the Finals. Oh, and one of the teams is a #1 seed, while the other is a #2 seed, which was also true in 2013.

But that's about where the similarities end in this series. While it may be a rematch, there are a lot of different factors that make this year's championship series a whole new deal. First of all, let's start with an important "off the court" factor. That phrase is in quotations because while its out of the hands of the players, it literally affects the basketball court in itself. I'm talking about the switch from the 2-3-2 format to the traditional 2-2-1-1-1 that we see in every other round of the NBA playoffs, and in all seven games series in both the MLB and the NHL. I never fully understood why the league decided to switch to a 2-3-2 in 1985, but I'm very happy that the format is gone. I was quite surprised that the Heat found a way to win the title after entering the final two games at home trailing in the series, simply because it's hard to beat a great team in two straight games, especially when said great team has the opportunity to close out a championship series. The road team is at a large disadvantage in the 2-3-2 unless they find a way to steal Game 1 on the road, because they'd be expected to hold serve at home and win two of the next three, and still potentially, as with last year's series, give the team with home court advantage two straight games at home to close it out. Had last year's series been played in the 2-2-1-1-1, the Heat's improbably Game 6 would have taken place in San Antonio, and the outcome probably would have been different. It's much more fair this way.

But wait, that reminds me. The home team for the book ends of the series has also changed. While the Heat dealt with struggles at points throughout the season, the Spurs continued to run through the tough Western Conference, and make it look easy. As a result, they're the team with home court advantage this time around, which is an important factor. They've been deadly at home throughout the postseason, only losing one game in San Antonio: in the first round against the Mavs. Obviously Miami is better than any of the other teams they've matched up against this postseason, but if the series gets down to Game 7, or even in a pivotal Game 5 if the series is knotted up at 2; the Spurs will automatically have an advantage in those all important games.

There are some other things happening with specific players, but I'll get to that in my positional breakdown, which starts now. Like, right now:

Point Guard
Tony Parker vs. Mario Chalmers. I mean, duh. Chalmers is an alright defender at best, but he won't be able to shadow Parker, especially when the Spurs will most definitely have their pick and roll working to spring the speedy point guard open for the whole series. Undoubtable Advantage: SPURS.

Shooting Guard
Manu Ginobili vs. Dwyane Wade. During last year's series, I thought that Ginobili was totally finished, but he proved me wrong in Game 5. Otherwise, ineffective offense and some bad turnovers contributed to him having a forgettable Finals. This time around, I expect a lot better of him.

At his best, Dwyane Wade is simply a better offensive player than Ginobili. He attacks the rim with more frequency and much more force, and is almost unstoppable at the rim. After playing in only 54 games this regular season, Wade is ready to go in this series. He's rested, and it shows. Across the board, he's been better than he was in the 2013 playoffs, which bodes well for the Heat. Advantage: HEAT.

Small Forward
Kawhi Leonard vs. LeBron James. In the preseason, I fell in love with Leonard, pegging him to make not only the All-Star team, but also receive Third Team All-NBA honors. Clearly, that didn't happen. But what did happen is that he's once again seemed to break out in the postseason, fooling us all into thinking that it will carry over into the regular season next year. I'm not sure about if it will happen or not, but I fully expect myself to be roped into Kawhi's trap again. A great athlete, a good shooter, a real attacker, an amazing defender, and overall a smart player; Leonard has all the tools.

But of course, LeBron James is LeBron James. Duh: HEAT. 

Power Forward
Tim Duncan vs. ???. I have no doubts at all that Tim Duncan is going to play very well in this series. He's still a great player, and is capable of dominating any game at any time.

Now, who will be guarding him? It could be Chris Bosh in an offense-defense cross-match  It could be Udonis Haslem, who hasn't really been a factor so far in the playoffs. It could be Rashard Lewis who has been a great offensive player, but not exactly the most trustworthy defender so far. It could be Shane Battier, who has always been very good in the defensive end of the floor. It could be Birdman, Birdman. Greg Oden sighting? It could even be LeBron James. Either way, they won't be able to stop Duncan. Advantage: SPURS. 

Tiago Splitter vs. Chris Bosh. One of the most important parts to the Spurs' success this year has been the new-found offensive prowess of Tiago Splitter, who used to be as valuable as Kendrick Perkins, or Dee Gordon (pre-2014 Dee Gordon at least, but you'll all see when he falls apart) offensively. He's now a legitimate factor in the famed Spurs pick and rolls, and a threat at the rim. He's still a solid defender, which had been his only worthwhile skill before this season.

On the other side, Chris Bosh and his mid-range to outside shooting will be important as he pulls either Splitter or Duncan (or my boy Boris Diaw) out from under the basket and prevent them from snagging important rebounds. And if they don't cover him out there, Bosh will make them pay. And, as seen on this play:
Bosh isn't a bad rebounder himself. Advantage: HEAT. 

As seen above, the Heat bench was important last year, and it still is. Former Seattle SuperSonics, Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis will be camped out on the perimeter ready to receive kick outs from Wade and James, utilizing the inside-out game. A generally small ball team, they'll have to employ many different options to combat the size of San Antonio, but not only do they have many options, Erik Spoelstra is a very smart coach who will be making the right decisions.

As with any Gregg Popovich team, the players are almost interchangeable. Patty Mills fills in nicely for Tony Parker when he has to, and my boy Boris Diaw plays the point center role to perfection. Danny Green is a knockdown shooter, at times, as is Marco Bellinelli. They have a lot of options to work with on the bench as well. Advantage: EVEN.

So now it all comes down to this, the prediction. Will I stick with my forecasts before the playoffs and before the season saying that the Heat would not win the titles this year? Or will I cave and stick with the best player in the world as he goes for a three-peat?

I'm rolling with LeBron, who will be having his best playoff series to date, including a career-defining Game 7 victory in San Antonio over the legendary Spurs and Popovich. He'll totally take over and lead his team to their third championship in as many years. Why? Because I said so.

Heat in 7. 

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