They say the journey is more important than the destination, but in basketball it’s all about the destination.
The next 4-7 games will define this season, at least in terms of basketball, for the 2014 Playoffs thus far are most likely to be remembered because of one odious old racist. Though it should not be forgotten that basketball stood strong, persevered, and invigorated its loyal spectators who witnessed some truly marvellous matchups. The San Antonio Spurs were tested from Day One in a seven-game all-Texas series against the Dallas Mavericks, and this continued against the surprise package Trail Blazers and the miracle of Serge Ibaka. The Miami Heat’s route was somewhat more straightforward, waltzing past Charlotte before seeing off the Brooklyn Nets after a one-game scare. In the Eastern Conference Finals they advanced past the Pacers (and the buffoonery of Lance Stephenson) and will now face the same foe they bested in seven games last year.
The last time two teams played each other in consecutive NBA Finals, it was Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls facing off against John Stockton and the Utah Jazz. The first of these meetings tipped off mere weeks before one Timothy Theodore Duncan was selected by the Spurs with the first pick in the 1997 NBA Draft. Since then, Timmy and coach Gregg Popovich have been crowned NBA champions four times, and were five seconds and a Ray Allen 3-pointer from making it five last year. Instead, LeBron James and the Miami Heat won their second straight title and now have their sights set on a ‘three-peat’.
Miami Heat +170
San Antonio Spurs -200
(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)
What to Watch
Big 3s – Power trios were certainly not unheard of in the NBA before the summer of 2010, but when LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh convened in South Beach the phrase took on new significance and expectations. This wasn’t least because of the now-infamous “not five, not six, not seven…” prediction that James boldly made at their unveiling. Hyperbole or not, the Heat strove for multiple championships, a feat which had already been achieved by another ‘Big 3’ in South Texas. Now, as Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili hope to add to their tally at the expense of the James and co., it is undoubtedly these six men who will have the greatest say in crowning the 2014 NBA Champions.
LeBron James is the most dominant player on the planet and the tide sets its watch by Tim Duncan – there is only so much that can be said about greatness.
Perhaps the biggest variable in this series will be the left ankle of Tony Parker. The Spurs will need the Frenchman not just to play, but to play at his best, if they are to take down the two-time defending champs, though Adrian Wojnarowski reports that Parker “should be ready” to go in Game 1. Meanwhile, the conservative strategy Miami adopted to preserve Dwyane Wade’s knees during the regular season appears to have paid dividends in the playoffs. Wade described Game 7 of last year’s series as “hell”, as he was forced to have fluid drained from one knee in order to play, but this year he appears to be fighting fit – a huge boost to the Heat’s title aspirations.
It would be unfair to call Chris Bosh and Manu Ginobili the ‘forgotten men’ of the Big 3s, even if they don’t command the spotlight as much as their teammates. Bosh went from underrated to overrated, before finally settling at appreciated, in his spell in Miami. He will again be tested by the Spurs’ bigs as the center in coach Eric Spolestra’s favoured ‘small ball’ lineups, but Bosh has shown he can bang when he has to, and his improved outside shot has given the Heat another weapon this season. Ginobili did just about everything in the final two games of the Western Conference Finals. In last year’s Finals he did very little. San Antonio already has an advantage over the Heat in terms of roster depth, so in coming off the bench Ginobli himself could very easily determine whether or not he wins a fourth ring.
The Supporting Cast
This year, the Spurs’ depth is one of the main reasons why they have been installed as slight favourites. It is unlikely that anyone will steal the show in its entirety from the host of superstars on display, but the other starters and bench contributors could swing the balance one way or the other. The Heat’s wing rotation currently leaves a lot to be desired, with Rashard Lewis getting the starting nod in the last few games due to Udonis Haslem’s injury. These ‘small ball’ line-ups are a lot riskier against the Spurs, however, given the presence of Duncan, Boris Diaw, and Tiago Splitter. Such size will require the Heat’s wings to help inside, leaving the likes of Danny Green and Marco Belinelli free to drain 3-pointers all night long.
This is why Chris Andersen is so important to Miami; ‘Birdman’ provides the Heat with invaluable size and hustle for eighteen minutes a night, and affords Spolestra an extra degree of versatility with his line-ups. Eighteen months ago one could have been forgiven for laughing at the notion of Birdman ever having a potential impact on a Finals series, while the prospect of the Spurs’ Boris Diaw being involved would have seemed almost as unlikely, though for very different reasons. Before landing in San Antonio in 2012, Diaw was a figure of ridicule in NBA circles; as a member of the Charlotte Bobcats he was overweight, overpaid, and presumed over the hill. Yet as part of the Spurs’ rotation he enjoyed a resurgence of form that Pop has managed to extract from many a so-called ‘has been’. Now Diaw and third-year stud Kawhi Leonard are charged with the unenviable task of guarding the Chosen One, something which Diaw has proven surprisingly capable of in the past.
Another interesting aside sees a reversion to the old 2-2-1-1-1 format after 29 years of playing 2-3-2. The Spurs will enjoy the home-court advantage that Miami held last year, something which may prove decisive as the regular season series was split between the sides, with the home team winning on each occasion. Overall this postseason, Greg Popovich’s squad boast a 12-6 record (.666), going 9-1 (.900) at home. And, after being one of the most miserly outfits in the league this season, you can bet that the Alamo will be well-defended when the Heat come to town.
The San Antonio Spurs are favourites, but only slightly, given that they have home court advantage and greater depth in a series that could easily go the distance. My money is on the Heat, though, because in my eyes a Spurs victory is dependent on too many variables. We can’t be certain that Parker will be or stay fit, we don’t know which Ginobili will show up, and it would be unwise to depend on Diaw’s defensive capabilities. We do know, of course, that LeBron James will be playing for the Miami Heat, so write them off at your peril.
Betting Instinct tip – Miami Heat to win in 6 is +350 with Intertops.eu