This is it. The NBA Finals. This is the third consecutive appearance for the Miami Heat. The Heat come into the finals off a game 7 win in the conference finals, just like last season. The Spurs' "Big Three" have never lost in the finals in their previous 4 appearances. This is San Antonio's first appearance since they swept LeBron's Cavaliers team back in 2006-07. Will LeBron be able to get revenge?
San Antonio Spurs (2) at Miami Heat (1)
It's always about how teams match up against each other, and I think San Antonio actually matches up very well against Miami. While Duncan and Splitter aren't as long and as skilled a combination as Hibbert and West were, they are still stronger than Miami's big men and should provide solid interior defense and rebounding. Leonard will have the main task of defending Lebron, which I think is huge for San Antonio as their main offensive players won't be worn down from defending James. A lot of other teams the Heat have faced have defended Lebron with their best overall player, who also happened to be their best offensive player (eg. George on Indiana, Durant on OKC).
The Key Players (who will need to step up):
Mario Chalmers - Lebron will probably switch over to defend Parker on a few possessions, but the bulk of that responsibility should fall on Chalmers. More importantly, it would be huge if Chalmers could consistently attack on offense, not allowing San Antonio to hide Parker in their team defense.
Chris Bosh - I think Bosh will be more important to this series than Wade will be. While it was ok for him to perch out by the three point line in order to draw out Hibbert, that won't be necessary in this series. Duncan does a lot of helping in the San Antonio defense, and Bosh needs to be able to both score on his own and to cut to the rim constantly for follows. I think a lot of Chris Andersen's open buckets in the Indiana series will fall onto Bosh, and he needs to make them.
Danny Green - I firmly believe that Danny Green's cold shooting last season against the Thunder was one of the main reasons the Spurs lost that series. He went from shooting 16 of 35 (45.7%) from 3 point range in the first two rounds last season to shooting 4 of 23 (17.5%) in the series against OKC. If he is shooting well, he completes the well-oiled machine that is the Spurs' offense. Especially with Leonard spending much of his energy defending Lebron, Danny Green's shooting will determine whether the Spurs will have a complete offense, along with Duncan's post game and Parker and Manu's slash and drive games.
Although a lot of people automatically think that Popovich is the better coach, I have always thought that Spoelstra himself was an excellent coach. There were a lot of game-to-game adjustments made in that Indiana series on both sides, and both coaches showed themselves to be in the top tier of current coaches. However, Miami has had to expose a lot of what they can do to survive the Indiana series, and that might prove to be just enough of an edge for Popovich to take advantage of.
When talking about fatigue in basketball, most people think about "legs" and running up and down the court. But the physicality of the game does take its toll, especially when you're constantly fighting against players who are bigger, stronger, and sometimes hungrier than you. While much has been made about the physicality of Indiana, people seem to have forgotten that Miami also played a series against a tough, defensive-minded Chicago team. Between those two series and what Lebron has had to do to will Miami into the finals, I just don't think the Heat as a team will be able to play anywhere near their best.
In the back and forth chess match that was the Indiana series, I believe that Miami pulling out the first game actually delayed the realization that they had to constantly adjust to what Indiana was doing. Once Indiana won game 2, Miami reacted perfectly to every wrinkle that Indiana added by winning all the odd numbered games. However, if San Antonio manages to steal one early, it might be too late for Miami to adjust and come back. San Antonio is one of the few teams that have played so well at home for so long that it shouldn't surprise anyone if they win their 3 consecutive home games.
Prediction: UPSET! San Antonio 4-1
Possible bets: Bet San Antonio to win the series. Current price around +200. Also a small bet for San Antonio to win the series 4-1. Prices vary by book but I think they average out to around +800. Don't forget that the finals have a 2-3-2 format, so if the Spurs clinch the title at home, they will have to do it in 5 games.
Let's look back and see how my conference finals predictions went.
Overall Series Predictions vs Actual Result:
Prediction San Antonio 4-3, Actual San Antonio 4-0
Prediction Miami 4-3, Actual Miami 4-3
I think I did another pretty good job. I got both winners right, and nailed the Miami series exactly. With two overtime wins, the San Antonio series was a lot closer than the sweep might lead one to believe. I was right that Indiana matched up well with Miami, and I still believe that if Indiana had home court advantage for the series they would have won it. The other bets however, have continued to produce mediocre results.
SAS to win the series. Win one unit.
Under in IND@MIA games. 3-4 for the series.
Overall results: 4-4 -0.4 units