NBA Playoffs: 2014 NBA Finals Preview

San Antonio Spurs (1 WC) vs Miami Heat (2 EC)

If you are feeling a sense of déjà vu, you are not alone. The San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat will compete for the right to call themselves NBA Champions for the second consecutive season, the first time two teams have played in two straight NBA Finals since the Utah Jazz and Chicago Bulls did so in the late 1990s.

Ray Allen ties Game 6
The last time these two teams met in the Finals was an epic seven game thriller, which would have ended in six games were it not for some late missed free throws by the Spurs and a heroic corner three pointer by Ray Allen.

With that in mind, the mental toughness of this Spurs team to rebound from such a heartbreaking series defeat to make it back to the NBA Finals the following season is incredible. They have also shown that, despite the critics saying they are too old to compete for a Championship, they continue wreak havoc on the league.

Meanwhile, Miami’s ability to keep themselves healthy, while at the same time avoiding fatigue after making it to the Finals for the fourth straight year must also be admired, as they look to continue to build their legacy and join the exclusive three-peat club.

San Antonio’s road to the Finals:
The Spurs’ Big Three are
in the NBA Finals once again
The Spurs finished the regular season with their highest win total in eight years, completing the season with a 62-20 record. This was achieved despite no player on their roster averaging more than 30 minutes per game. A testament to both Gregg Popovich’s coaching and the depth of this Spurs team, San Antonio are looking as dangerous as ever, even in the twilight years of their big three era.

San Antonio struggled to get past the eighth seeded Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs, scraping through in seven tough games. The second round was considerably easier, as the Spurs found a way to negate the threat of LaMarcus Aldridge, winning the series in five games.

The Western Conference Finals appeared as though it was going to be straightforward for the Spurs after the news that Ibaka was expected to miss the rest of the playoffs due to a calf injury. San Antonio went 2-0 up, dominating offensively in the paint, which prompted Ibaka to make a surprise return to the Thunder lineup. His inclusion back into the side was not enough to stem the bleeding, with the Spurs going on to win the series in six games.

Miami’s road to the finals:
Dwyane Wade spent a third of
the resting his troublesome knee
Considering there were reports around the league that the Heat were playing far from their best basketball, Miami had another excellent season, although they were not able to secure the first seed in the Eastern Conference. Dwyane Wade was rested for 29 games over the course of the regular season to allow his ailing knees some time to heal, while at the same time keeping his fresh for a deep postseason run.

Miami’s path to the Finals was a relatively straightforward one; sweeping the Bobcats who could barely put up a fight after the injury to Al Jefferson was swiftly followed by a five game victory against the Brooklyn Nets, with Joe Johnson being the only player who was able to keep the series interesting.

The Pacers gave the Heat their only genuine test during the postseason in a highly anticipated match-up, improving considerably on their earlier performances in the first two rounds. Indiana took the Heat to six games, the last of which turned into a comprehensive blowout, ensuring that the game 7 on the Pacers’ home floor that Indiana declared that they had played for all season would never happen.

How the Spurs can win:

The Spurs are always looking
to move the ball
The Spurs have one of the deepest rosters in the league, with any of the twelve players that make up their starting five and bench capable of contributing to the team. They are a joy to watch offensively, constantly moving the ball and passing up good shot opportunities for great ones.

This is the key to what makes the Spurs so dangerous, as there is no player who they look to run their offense through. It can also confuse the opposition defense, making them chase the ball, leaving gaps to exploit and players open for easy shots.

The Spurs were among the top five teams in defensive efficiency in the regular season, allowing the opposition just over 100 points per game. Much of this is down to Gregg Popovich’s defensive system, which is in place to slow down the opposition’s best player(s).

This type of system could pose Miami problems, as their bench production has been somewhat inconsistent during this postseason. If one, two, or even all three of their All-Stars is having a tough night, do they have anyone who can step up?

How the Heat can win:

Chris Bosh has become a
legitimate three point threat
Stretching this San Antonio defense is the key to the Heat’s chances of winning this series. Surrounding attacking wing players like James and Wade with three-point marksmen will stretch the Spurs’ defense and open gaps for Miami’s superstar duo to attack the paint and either finish at the rim or kick the ball out to a shooter.

Chris Bosh has started to emerge even more from the shadow of his two fellow All-Star teammates. He has been shooting excellently in recent weeks, especially from behind the three point line. He was used against Indiana to drag Roy Hibbert out of the paint, and will more than likely be employed in the same role against Tim Duncan.

The Heat’s defensive match-ups will certainly be interesting to watch. Will they look to Haslem or Battier to guard Duncan in the post if Bosh is off the court? Or could Rashard Lewis see more court time like he did against Indiana? Will Chalmers and Cole be solely responsible for guarding Tony Parker, or will LeBron switch on to him like he did last season?

These potential match-ups will be interesting to watch, and we will more than likely see many changes as the 
series goes on, as Erik Spoelstra has proven he is not afraid to try different rotations if things are not working as planned.

San Antonio was desperate to get to the Finals and play Miami once again, with Tim Duncan stating at the end of the series against Oklahoma City that the Spurs “will do it (beat Miami) this time”. Interesting comments from a player who for so many years has let his game do the talking.

The Heat will know that the Spurs will be out for retribution, and this season it is the Spurs, not the Heat, who possess the home court advantage. However, if Miami can win at least one of the first two games on San Antonio’s home floor, it would be hard to bet against them going on to win the series.

Winner: Heat in 6

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