Here we are.
It’s the day that we’ve all been waiting for. The NBA season started more than seven months ago beginning with 30 teams all vying for the opportunity to win an NBA championship.
Flash forward to early June and only two teams remain.
Those two teams are the San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat.
The Spurs entered the playoffs as the No. 2 seed, having won 58 games during the regular season. They swept the seventh-seeded Lakers in the first round, before engaging in a tough second round series with the Warriors, before eliminating them in six games. SA would go on the play the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference Finals, where the Spurs ended up sweeping Memphis 10 days ago.
The Heat won 66 games this year as the NBA’s best team. On their way to winning a franchise-record 66 games, the Heat embarked on a 27-game winning streak, which marked the second-best such streak in NBA history. Lebron James won his fourth MVP award, while Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh continued to play strong in their roles during the regular season.
Miami swept the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round, eliminated the Bulls in five games, before eventually eliminating the pesky Pacers in seven games just three days ago.
The Spurs are clearly the West’s best team. The Heat are clearly the East’s best team. Something’s gotta give.
What are some of the keys to this series for the Heat entering Game 1 on Thursday night?
Use Your Athleticism
For as much flack as the Spurs get for being an old team, they’re actually a lot younger than the Heat as a roster. The Spurs’ average age is 28.2 years in comparison to Miami’s average age of 31.3 years old.
Having said that, despite Miami’s entire roster as a whole being an old team, the Heat’s main rotation guys—players such as Lebron James, Chris Bosh, Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole—are still relatively young.
The Spurs’ big three—that being Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker—are all 31 years old and up.
This will be one of the many keys to this series. Can the Heat get out on the fast break and score points by forcing turnovers? Can they get out on the open court and score easy buckets while wearing down the old legs of the Spurs’ core three?
If they can do that, this series might be over sooner than many people think.
The Heat’s Suffocating Defense
We all know when Miami plays their defense, they’re the best defensive team in the league.
They showed that in Game 7, when coach Erik Spoelstra used a variety of defensive traps and double teams into forcing the Pacers’ offense into a frenzy.
Miami will need it again entering this series considering that San Antonio averaged 103.0 PPG during the regular season—fourth-best in the NBA.
San Antonio’s offense revolves around selfless teamwork, ball movement and most importantly, the dribble penetration of Tony Parker.
The Spurs thrive off of Parker’s drives to the basket. What happens in these situations is that Parker either takes it to the hoop himself—which he did with amazing efficiency during the regular season, when he shot 52.2% from the field—dishes to an open teammate after the defense collapses on him inside of the paint, or draws a foul.
Coach Gregg Poppovich has done a great job finding players that buy into the “team-first” philosophy, while making the transition from the Spurs being a Tim Duncan-based team, to one that revolves around the strengths of the speedy point guard, Parker.
If the Heat can’t slow down Parker and prevent him from being effective in the paint, the Spurs could very well pull off the upset.
These are two different teams with two different playing styles. Although the Spurs can run up and down the court, they don’t have the athleticism that the Heat have.
Having said that, both teams are strong offensively and defensively. Both teams ranked in the top 10 in offensive and defensive PPG.
The key to winning this series for the Heat will be whether they can get out on the fast break enough to score easy baskets, and whether they can contain Tony Parker in the paint.
The key to winning this series for the Spurs will be maximizing the strength’s of Parker in order for the rest of the team to play to their fullest abilities.
You can check out my podcast preview for Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Blog Talk Radio.