The Heat-Spurs NBA Finals is not exactly the matchup we would have liked to have seen here in the Rocky Mountain region after our Nuggets got bounced in the first round of the playoffs, but we’ll take it. The Finals matchup between the old (Spurs) and kind of young (Heat) looks to be a gem.
I think we can all agree that the Heat, whether we like to admit it or not, is the best team in the NBA. They have the best player in the NBA, with the freak abilities of LeBron James. They have Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. Even the Birdman himself, Chris Anderson, has found an important role in the Heat’s lineup. Going into the playoffs with the best regular season record in the NBA, the smart bet in Vegas was to pick the Heat to win the NBA Finals once again.
But then came along the Indian Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals and all of a sudden the Miami Heat seem very, very beatable. Last Monday, the Heat beat the Pacers in Game 7 of the conference finals with a 99-76 blowout. That final game blowout by the Heat was in no way characteristic of the series. Somehow the gritty Pacers were able to find a way to grind that series out and show that a beat-up Heat team is very beatable.
Throughout that series, LeBron was great. He played up to his MVP status the entire time. However, when his team was not playing up to his standard, and not pulling its weight, the Heat were marginalized. It proved that LeBron couldn’t win games by himself, and that if the Heat are truly going to be a Finals champion this year, Bosh and Wade need to dominate in their game as well. It’s a lesson the Lakers and Kobe Bryant learned and relearned all season. Monday’s blowout in Game 7 against the Pacers is an example of what the Heat can do to a team when they are playing as a complete team.
Simply put, the Heat-Pacers series proved that the Heat can have some real peaks and valleys. When they are at their best, they are unbeatable. When they are at their worst, they are very beatable. It seems that nobody really knew this until the Heat-Pacers series.
Meanwhile, when the Heat and Pacers were battling it out for the Eastern Conference Championship, the San Antonio Spurs were at home on the couch, resting up for their berth into the NBA Finals after completely routing the Memphis Grizzlies in a four-game Western Conference Championship series sweep. Normally, I would say all that time off waiting for another series to end can be a disadvantage to a team (the 2007 Colorado Rockies World Series run comes to mind). After a long break waiting for the Finals to start, you might think the Spurs might go into the Finals a bit rusty and cold – for most teams, that’s probably the case. For the Spurs, however, it will more than likely give them an advantage.
Under the brilliance of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, the aging Spurs, led by Tim Duncan, seem to age like a fine wine. And when they are given time to rest and regroup after a series, they get even better. With the young and fast-paced teams in the Western Conference playoffs this year, I don’t think anybody really saw the elderly Spurs making it to the finals. But under the leadership of Popovich, Duncan and Manu Ginobli, they breezed through the playoffs like we all thought the Heat would. In their postseason play, the Spurs, despite their age, proved they are a championship-caliber team because they can make adjustments that are effective. Their ability to adjust to an opponent’s game plan is why the Spurs are once again in the finals.
“Those guys have a lot of character, and they make it easier for whoever we bring in to adjust and understand their role as a team” Popovich told The New York Times, about Duncan and Ginobli. “They help me do my job. Actually, it’s more important what they do than what I do as far as making those players feel comfortable, not intimidating them and giving them the time and space to form their own games around them. They are responsible for allowing that to happen over the years.”
It’s no secret that the Spurs have something special going on. It’s a team that’s perfectly gelled to win. The Heat, on the other hand, have the physical edge over the Spurs – but perhaps don’t always gel into the tight team they can be.
The conference marks the first time the two teams have met in the Finals, and Game 1 on Thursday night will be the third time these two teams faced each other this season. Although you might say that these two teams haven’t faced each other at full strength all season. If you remember, Popovich was fined earlier this season by Commissioner David Stern for sitting most of his starters, including Duncan and Ginobli, during a game in Miami this year. In fact, he sent them home early – they weren’t even in the arena. Everyone thought then that it might be a matchup of the NBA Finals, and Stern wasn’t happy with Popovich’s move.
When the two teams met later in the season, the situation flipped and the Heat sat Wade, LeBron and Mario Chalmers. This time, however, Stern, didn’t dish out any fines. So you could say Popovich and Heat Head Coach Erik Spoelstra could see into the future and knew they would be meeting in the finals. Neither team really knows the other well.
I offer no predictions as to what may happen in these Finals other than it will be a terrific championship series. On a side note, Watch music columnist and diehard Heat fan Adam Smith, who has been overly confident all season, told me Tuesday that he’s nervous – “as nervous as I have been all season.”
Perhaps he just has NBA Finals jitters? Maybe he’s worried that new Heat bandwagon fan Justin Bieber will bring his bad luck to Miami? Or maybe he knows something about this matchup that I don’t. I guess we’ll find out.