The 2013 NBA Finals are upon us and pits two prior champions in what should make an interesting series to watch.
The Western Conference Champion San Antonio Spurs feature future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan along with his long time sidekicks Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. While the Eastern Conference Champion Miami Heat counter with the best player in the NBA Lebron James with his two buddies Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.
San Antonio’s path to the finals was far easier with a 4-0 sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers, 4-2 win over the Golden State Warriors and a surprising 4-0 sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies.
While the Miami Heat swept the Milwaukee Bucks, defeated a injury ravaged Chicago Bulls team in 5 games and just finished a grueling 7 game series against the Indiana Pacers.
San Antonio will have 10 days rest before lacing it up in Game 1 Thursday night in South Beach. With Tony Parker (calf), Kawhi Leonard (knee), Manu Ginobili (hamstring), and Tiago Splitter (ankle) all dealing with injuries the long lay off could not have come at a better time.
Miami, on the other hand has injuries of its own to Dwayne Wade (knee) and Chris Bosh (ankle) to deal with and will only have 2 days rest before Game 1.
Both these teams won 58 and 66 games during the regular season and for good reason. Here is the breakdown by position.
Point Guard: Tony Parker vs. Mario Chalmers
Parker is a 3-time NBA champion who toasted the Memphis Grizzlies for 37 points in the deciding Game 4 sweep of the Grizzlies. Parker is a nightmare for opposing defenses as he knifes through the lane with amazing precision and with his mid range jump shot. He can pass and score and is right now the Spurs best player. Mario Chalmers is a solid player in his own right but cannot compare to Parker in terms of quickness and driving ability in the lane. Although Chalmers does possess a better 3 point shot and Parker will have to respect it on defense.
Shooting Guard: Dwayne Wade vs. Danny Green/Manu Ginobili
Wade finally showed up in Game 7 against Indiana and his performance put the Heat over the top. Against San Antonio Wade will have to better on both ends of the court. The combination of Danny Green and Manu Ginobili will take its toll on Wade and his balky knee. Wade’s numbers are down because of his injury and he will need to play like he did in Game 7 in the Finals every game or Miami could be in trouble. Green and Ginobili have played sensational in the playoffs and each compliments the other as a tandem well. Green is a very good spot up 3 point shooter and defender while Ginobili can not only shoot but dribble drive and kick if need be. Wade will have his hands full on defense because of this.
Advantage: Even, as long as Wade’s knee is questionable Green and Ginobili should be able to hold their own. Now if Wade was healthy…..This would clearly be an advantage for Miami.
Small Forward: LeBron James vs. Kawhi Leonard
Leonard like Wade is suffering from some knee issues but the 10 days rest should have alleviated that. James is 100% on fire right now and cannot be stopped. LeBron must lead his team on a nightly basis in order to repeat as champions. Leonard will try to slow him down on defense and keep LeBron away from the glass on the offensive end with his superb outside shooting.
Advantage: Miami, LeBron is a beast that the NBA has never seen, is healthy and on a mission for title number two.
Power Forward: Chris Bosh vs. Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan is the greatest PF of all time and has shown even at his age he still has it. While Chris Bosh has struggled mightily in the playoffs and perhaps it is because of his ankle. Duncan right now is playing in tip top form and is showing age is just a number. Bosh on the other hand is in a funk and needs to snap out of it fast. His rebounding is way down and he is settling for nothing but jump shots on the perimeter. Unless Bosh snaps out of it and plays like the player we all know he is, Duncan will eat him alive in this series.
Advantage: Spurs, although if Bosh was his normal self this would be even.
Center: Tiago Splitter vs. Udonis Haslem
Haslem has seen his best days and is now a hustle player who grabs boards and hits the occasional jump shot. Splitter after spending most of last season in Gregg Popovich’s doghouse has come into this own and has been solid underneath after recovering from an ankle injury against the Lakers in the first round. Splitter has been dependable and consistent most of the season and playoffs. Against an undersized Miami front line he should put up similar or better numbers than he did against the Warriors and Grizzlies who have more depth upfront.
Bench: Shane Battier, Mike Miller, Joel Anthony, Chris Anderson, Norris Cole and Ray Allen vs. Matt Bonner, Boris Diaw, Manu Ginobili, Corey Joseph and Gary Neal.
The battle of the benches will be decided by on if Ray Allen and Chris Anderson show up with their energy and intangibles as everyone knows what to expect from the Spurs bench. With the Heat undersized upfront it is possible Anthony may get more minutes at the expense of Miller and Battier. In the end it will be about who can step up with energy and hustle night in and night out.
Both teams struggle to rebound as the Spurs were 21st in the league and the Heat were 30th. With Bosh ailing, rebounding will be a big key for the Heat as it was against the Pacers. When the Heat rebound their defense is almost impossible to score on in the half court. It has to be a team effort on the glass like in Game 7 where Wade, a shooting guard had 9 boards.
San Antonio is a very good 3 point shooting team and will need to play inside out in order to keep the Heat honest. If Duncan can find open guys for flat footed jump shots on the perimeter it will be a long series for Miami.
I also expect Parker to wreak havoc the in the paint and on the perimeter. James may be forced to guard Parker in this series if he starts dominating.
In the end, the Spurs do not have an answer for LeBron James. The Spurs have a more balanced roster top to bottom and can score and play defense just as well as Miami.
If Bosh and Wade step up and play to even 75% of their abilities Miami will win this series. The issue here is they have not shown it of late and the Spurs are 100% healthy, rested, and ready to roll.
With that being said, my prediction is Miami in 7 games. LeBron will find a way to get his team to repeat as champions. But if Wade and Bosh continue to struggle, San Antonio could easily with their 5th title in the Tim Duncan era.