Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Ultimate NBA Finals Preview 2014

2014 NBA Finals: Miami Heat vs. San Antonio Spurs

Game 1:  Thursday, June 5th, 9:00 pm, @San Antonio
Game 2:  Sunday, June 8th, 8:00 pm, @San Antonio
Game 3:  Tuesday, June 10th, 9:00 pm, @Miami
Game 4:  Thursday, June 12th, 9:00 pm, @Miami
Game 5 (if necessary):  Sunday, June 15th, 8:00 pm, @San Antonio
Game 6 (if necessary):  Tuesday, June 17th, 9:00 pm, @Miami
Game 7 (if necessary):  Friday, June 20th, 9:00 pm, @San Antonio

How They Got There:

          The Spurs finished the regular season with the #1 seed in the Western Conference and the best record in the NBA at 62-20.  Adding to San Antonio's incredible season is the fact that they have an average age of 28.4 years and were coming off a run to the finals the previous year.  Amazingly, they actually improved upon their 58-24 record from a season ago, a feat which can no doubt be attributed to great coaching, veteran leadership, and a hunger to avenge their loss to the Heat in the finals.  This year, the Spurs had to face a vastly underrated Dallas Mavericks team in the First Round, in a series that ended up going to seven games.  Then, they clashed with the Portland Trail Blazers in the Conference Semifinals, one of the best young teams in the league headlined by Damien Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge.  They took care of business in five games, then met the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals for the second year in a a row.  After winning the first two games, the Spurs struggled to find an answer to the returned Serge Ibaka in the next two.  But, true to form, the Spurs stepped up their game when it mattered most, and won games five and six in order to take the series, including an unbelievable Game 6 in Oklahoma City that was perhaps the Spurs' best performance of the entire season.
          The Heat came in second place in the Eastern Conference, falling just two games behind the Indiana Pacers, with a record of 54-28.  As a team with very few changes from last year's championship-winning team and an average age of 29.4 years (higher than the Spurs!), the Heat played very well in spurts and came on strong towards the second half of the season.  Showing very few signs of a championship hangover, they breezed into the playoffs in what was an incredibly weak Eastern Conference, although having trouble with the Pacers during the regular season.  In the First Round of the playoffs, Miami swept the overachieving Charlotte Bobcats, then didn't need to work much harder at taking down the high-priced Brooklyn Nets in five games in the Conference Semifinals.  The Nets injured stars, in Deron Williams and Brooke Lopez, as well as their aging veterans, in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, were no match for the ultra-athletic Miami Heat.  Things got interesting, however, in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Pacers, where the Heat were able to avenge their early season losses despite a valiant effort by the Pacers.  Lance Stephenson's antics and Roy Hibbert's disappearance were almost laughable compared to the professional and efficient way the Heat took care of business.

Key Stats:

  • San Antonio ranked 3rd in the league in points scored per game (106.6) during the postseason, while Miami ranked 8th (99.1).
  • Miami ranked 2nd in the league in points allowed per game (92.1) during the postseason, while San Antonio ranked 8th (101.8).
  • The Heat ranked 1st in the league in 3-point percentage (39.5%) during the postseason, while the Spurs ranked 2nd (39.2%).
  • Miami had the fewest turnovers allowed per game (10.9) during the postseason, while San Antonio had the 4th-fewest (12.2).
  • Miami and San Antonio tied for the 5th-most turnovers forced per game (13.7) during the postseason.
  • The Spurs have played 18 playoff games so far, while the Heat have played 15.
  • The Spurs are 35-18 all-time against the Heat in the regular season, but the Heat are 4-3 all time against the Spurs in the playoffs (last year's finals was their only postseason meeting).

Key Matchups:

  • LeBron James vs. Kawhi Leonard

LeBron has averaged 27.1 points per game these playoffs, 6.8 rebounds per game, 5.0 assists per game, and 1.8 steals per game.  It is pretty much impossible to expect anybody to match that.  Leonard's job will be to guard the future hall-of-famer for much of the series, a job which will cause him to focus more on defense than offense.  He has averaged only 13.3 points per game this postseason, but with other more high-profile stars on the team the Spurs have not needed much more from him, since he has made up for it on the glass, averaging 6.8 rebounds per game an, and by averaging 1.72 steals per game.  Look for LeBron to continue to put up huge offensive numbers but be reduced to fewer rebounds, as Leonard will put most of his focus on guarding James.  However, in order to take pressure off the Spurs' stars, Leonard has to be an effective complimentary scorer as he has been so far these playoffs.

  • Dwayne Wade vs. Manu Ginobili

Wade has been nothing short of resurgent in the last few weeks, showing all his doubters what a different (and dominant) player he is when healthy.  In fact, he may be the player on the Heat most crucial to their title hopes, as he can truly take over the transition game that is so effective when he and LeBron run the floor after the Heat's stingy defense forces a turnover.  He has averaged 18.7 points per game in the playoffs with 4.3 assists, playing like a true offensive force.  Ginobili has been wildly inconsistent this season, but when he gets hot, there is no stopping him.  He has averaged 14.3 points per game with 4.1 assists per game, not to mention his deadly corner three when Tony Parker drives in the lane and kicks it out.  Whoever takes control of this matchup will give his team a major advantage in the series.

  • Chris Bosh vs. Tim Duncan

Bosh has been a consistent scorer this postseason, with 15.2 points per game, and a solid rebounder as well, with 5.7 rebounds per game.  He also boasts an incredibly underrated 3-point shot that he shoots at a rate of 41%.  Tim Duncan has been nothing short of a best in the playoffs, not only by averaging 16.5 points per game, but especially by averaging 8.9 rebounds per game.  Look for Duncan to dominate the glass over Bosh, but if Duncan gets too focused on protecting the paint and Bosh sneaks to the corner and hits a couple of threes, then the Spurs will be in trouble.  A lot depends on Bosh's outside shot, but since he has proven it to be effective so far, Duncan will need to follow Bosh all around the court and leave the rim-protecting to Tiago Splitter.  Offensively for Duncan, his arsenal of post moves should be no match more Bosh's defense, as long as the San Antonio big-man isn't too tired from guarding Bosh at the three-point line.

  • Danny Green/Marco Belinelli vs. Ray Allen/Rashard Lewis

These two teams are the two best three-point shooting teams in the league, so naturally, whichever team's three-point shooters have a better series will go a long way towards determining the winner.  So far in the playoffs, Green has shot threes at an astounding rate of 48.1%, and Belinelli at 41.4%.  Ray Allen has shot threes these playoffs at a rate of 38.1%, with Lewis shooting at 32.4%.  The numbers seem to suggest that the clear favorites in this matchup are Green and Belinelli of the Spurs, but it will be hard to bet against the all-time best three-point shooter in Ray Allen.  However, when the Spurs get hot from beyond the arc, they are nearly impossible to stop.  Look for San Antonio to win the three-point battle, but in a clutch situation, much like last year, look for Ray Allen to come up big and knock down the shot.

  • Tony Parker vs. Mario Chalmers/Norris Cole

The clear edge in this matchup goes to Parker, who has averaged 17.2 points per game these playoffs, as well as 4.9 assists per game.  Chalmers has only averaged 7.1 points per game, while Cole has scored 5.1.  The real key for the Heat's point guards will be to keep Parker away from the basket, because when he drives into the lane he is an incredible finisher as well as very savvy at dishing out the ball to the wing, where his teammates can hit the three.  Parker's goal this series will be to facilitate the Spurs' offense, while still not allowing Chalmers or Cole to hit a big three-pointer to give momentum to the Heat, which they have been known to do.  Look for Tony Parker to dominate this matchup and have a big say in the way this series goes.

Prediction:  Spurs in 7

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