2013 NBA Finals

By Jeff Rapp, June 7th, 2013

David Stern is departing from his post as NBA commissioner pretty soon and it’s safe to say he will leave the world’s best professional basketball league in good standing.

In the last four seasons, the public has been treated to some of the best basketball in league history, a plethora of developing superstars and compelling NBA Finals showcases such as a timeless classic (Lakers-Celtics, 2010), a stirring upset (Mavericks over Heat, 2011), the year of LeBron (Heat over Thunder, 2012) and this summer’s potential onset of a dynasty with the Heat trying to repeat against the cagey Spurs.

Sure, we’ve endured “The Decision;” a lockout and shortened 2011-12 season; crippling injuries to stars such as Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook and Kobe Bryant; the “Dwightmare” in Orlando; the soap opera in Los Angeles; and even a controversial void of an offseason trade by Stern himself.

But with basketball as popular as ever and young talents such as Kevin Durant and Chris Paul clearly capable of holding the league torch, the NBA will continue to thrive.

The biggest question looming right now is will the Miami Heat become the Association’s next great team to make an indelible multiyear mark or will LeBron James’ prediction of unprecedented modern success – I’ve lost count, did he throw out seven or eight rings? – fall well short.

As we sit here today, either avenue seems entirely possible. It’s certainly not difficult to envision James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and company hoisting another Larry O’Brien Trophy in a couple weeks and repeating the process. It’s also conceivable that the Heat could look mortal and be out-guiled in its Finals matchup with the San Antonio Spurs, which kicks off tonight (9 p.m. Eastern, ABC).

Still, for the Spurs – even with all their experience, toughness and uncanny ability to put substance over style – to knock the King off his throne they will have to be nearly flawless in this series.

The following is my personal rapid-fire breakdown and prediction:

Three Amigos – We know all about Miami’s Big Three but the San Antonio trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili is even more accomplished in the playoffs and yet less hailed.

Coach Gregg Popovich has had to change lots of pieces around that threesome over the years and even has altered their roles at times – remember when Ginobili came off the bench, then started then moved back to sixth man? – but there is no question they are the foundation of success.

With a big who can score from and defend numerous areas on the floor (Duncan), a wing who can go left all day and hit huge shots (Ginobili) and a point guard who is deadly on the pick-and-roll and capable of going off on anyone at anytime (Parker), the Spurs are still like holding a lit stick of dynamite.

Sorry, Wile E.

This series still very well could go down to the contributions of those outside the All-Star circle. Miami could get the check mark in that category with the likes of Chris “The Birdman” Andersen, Udonis Haslem and Norris Cole. But as crazy as it sounds, Duncan-Parker-Ginobili could offset the production of James-Wade-Bosh.

Splashdown – Duncan is the most accomplished board man in the series, ripping down 9.9 per game, and the Spurs – who grabbed 41.3 rebounds per game compared to Miami’s 38.6 – could have a healthy advantage on the backboards.

Plus, Duncan also has been outstanding defensively and can still redirect shots. He smacked 2.7 blocks per game while the Heat doesn’t have a discernable shot blocker.

The Heat will have to offset that shortcoming as it did in the seven-game grind with the taller, more physical Indiana Pacers – by playing outstanding team defense in key moments and by outshooting its foe.

Led by James’ eye-opening field-goal percentage of 56.5, Miami is shooting 49.6 percent for the season. The Spurs are an impressive 48.1 percent from the floor as a team but that figure still pales in comparison.

Miami also is deadly from long range, connecting as a 39.6-percent clip. The Spurs are very good at hitting timely threes and have weapons such as Matt Bonner and Kawhi Leonard as well as Ginobili and Parker, but they shoot 37.6 percent from deep.

The biggest headache is Bosh, who can get going from behind the arc and change a game with his shooting. If he’s successful and draws Duncan away from the basket – and James continues to go down into the paint when the situation presents itself – Miami will be the harder team to guard.

No Shortage Of TP – Parker is San Antonio’s most important player in this series and will keep the Spurs in several games. He’s the Spurs’ leading scorer at 20.3 points per game and somehow is shooting 52.2 percent from the field despite often having to create plays with the shot clock winding down.

And while James is a marvel at moving the ball to open teammates and putting up 7.3 assist per game, an absurd figure for a wing forward, Parker doles out 7.6 apg.

Parker is one of the best in the business at attacking from the point but remaining under control, and his pull-up game is as good as any facet. Fouling him on the move, of course, is not a good option and backing off and leaving him wide open isn’t, either. Miami’s best bet is to have Mario Chalmers and Cole bird-dog him but also to be ready to bring help with enough size to make him change shots in the air.

James certainly can do that but Erik Spoelstra doesn’t want his premier player expending too much of his energy on that end of the floor. Wade, meanwhile, has a tendency to reach in on drivers and pick up cheap fouls.

Parker coming off the high pick is going to be worth watching in every game. And remember, the Heat needed seven games to finally slow down Paul George on the same play.

Having A Flair – You don’t win championships on style points, but stylistic plays certainly help the Heat get the fans going and in turn rev the engine. Miami will be looking to get out and run, whip passes around and finish with authority.

Conversely, San Antonio can wear down opponents and win games without hardly anything to juice up the highlight reel. In fact, Popovich loves winning that way.

Will the Spurs be successful and douse the Heat much the way the Mavs did a couple years ago or will Miami dictate tempo and ride emotion to victory?

Final Analysis – Popovich is simply the best in the business and is to be commended yet again for guiding an aging team to the top of the Western Conference and again pushing the right buttons in the playoffs. His record and ability to get his team to play the proper style can’t be overlooked.

It’s also noteworthy that the Spurs wiped out Memphis in the conference finals to get here while Miami was pushed to the brink by Indiana. The Spurs are bigger, more patient and perhaps more opportunistic in close games.

However, almost all of the other checkmarks have to go to Miami starting with the homecourt advantage, a 2-0 record vs. San Antonio in the regular season (including a win in Texas with James and Wade on the bench), the edge in depth and athleticism, and the Heat’s penchant for finding top gear when needed.

Also, Ray Allen is too proven and too hungry to discount. One of the NBA’s all-time best shooters, I suspect Allen will play hero in one of the contests – and the Heat only have to win four.

Most of all, though, it’s clear James is not nearly finished in his quest to prove his dominance, shut up his haters and put to rest any notion that Miami’s run will be short-lived.

Simply the best player in the game, James is a triple-double waiting to happen and is at the summit of his career. If the Heat need carried, he’s up to the task. If Wade continues to struggle, he’ll pick up the slack.

There’s nothing the King can’t do on the hardwood and most alarming, as has been the case throughout his career, is how unstoppable he can be when he decides to blast through defenders and seek the goal. Seriously, who is going to take a charge when he’s on the dead run?

The Spurs have a lot of court smarts and will figure out how to make this a competitive series. After all, they beat Cleveland years ago and managed to slow down James just enough. But that was then and this is now – a time when “beat the Heat” is becoming just a hollow chant.

Prediction: Miami in 6