Thirty teams start every NBA season these days (until Seattle and Las Vegas get teams). Twenty-eight of those teams have seen their seasons end. Two of those teams are left, and neither should be a surprise to NBA fans. After LeBron James and Chris Bosh chose Miami as their free-agent destination in July of 2010, the Miami Heat have been the heavy favorites to win the Larry O’ Brien trophy every year.
In June of 2011, the Heat were beaten by the Dallas Mavericks in six games. A year ago, in June, 2012, LeBron led the Heat to the Championship, defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games. This will be the third straight year the Miami Heat represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.
The San Antonio Spurs, like the New England Patriots in football, refuse to leave the upper echelon of the league.
The Big Fundamental, Tim Duncan, is 37. Euro-stepper Manu Ginobili turns 36 in July. Point guard Tony Parker is 31. Coach Gregg Popovich is 64, but has the spirit of a 40 year-old. Check this out for a sense of how common the name Popovich is in the Balkans. The Spurs are back in the NBA Finals after a run of three championships in five years (2003-2007) and four rings in nine years (1999-2007). After losing in the West Finals to the Lakers in five games in 2008, and falling in six games to the Oklahoma City Thunder last June, the Spurs have made one last charge to cement their elite status and to (possibly) end the careers of Duncan and Popovich in fitting fashion. These Spurs are more balanced than perhaps any of those previous championship Spurs teams have been. From 2003-2007, the Spurs were led by the trio of Dunan, Parker and Ginobili, with a rotating cast of complementary role players, but relied heavily on Duncan’s consistency, and stifling defense, to dominate the competition. This year’s Spurs are much more offensively-focused, and have been led by Tony Parker’s pick-and-roll intellect, as well as the best ball movement in the NBA. The Spurs can still rely on excellent defense for stretches of play, but do not present the steady intimidation they formerly relied on. As the league has changed, the Spurs have adapted beautifully.
Tony Parker, the offensive captain of this Spurs vessel, has been downright phenomenal throughout most of this regular seasons and all of this year’s playoffs. It’s my guess that Parker will find himself blanketed by LeBron James at crucial moments in this series (if not for entire halves or games). James’ defense will likely shut Parker down, but create match-up disasters at other positions for Popovich to take advantage of. Expect Duncan, Splitter, and Diaw to exploit some of those mismatches in the Miami front-court. Another potential problem for Miami is LeBron’s energy being expended on defense, when an increasingly burdensome load must be carried by LeBron unless Wade’s Game 7 effort can be sustained in the Finals.
The Spurs, like all Miami opponents, absolutely must take care of the ball to keep the Heat from excelling in transition points.
Without further ado, here’s my prediction.
Darko Index Predicts: Spurs in 6.
Explanation: Wade’s knee is not okay. Chris Bosh is not playing anywhere near his peak level (perhaps due to a rolled ankle in Game 4). Kawhi Leonard’s defense on LeBron is phenomenal. Chris Anderson gets suspended in Game 3 for shoving DeJaun Blair. Nando de Colo has an impact off the bench. Tiago Splitter collects offensive rebounds at a surprising rate.