Wednesday, June 4, 2014

NBA Finals Prediction: Too Much

The Math
The case for Miami: Has the best player in the world, and of his generation, in the prime of his career. Best won-loss record in these playoffs. Every meaningful player was here last year and experienced success. Proven coach in Eric Spoelstra, who never gets outplayed. Defensive ball pressure, especially in the half court, that is unmatched by any basketball team since the Jordan / Pippen / Rodman Bulls. Competent and professional bench, with clearly defined roles and the ability to show up on the road. Chris Bosh has become effective from the three point arc, giving more room and another shooter for LeBron James to find on drives to the hoop. Dwayne Wade is better rested than last year, and in better health. Have not been seriously tested in this playoff. Are younger than the Spurs when it comes to their best players, and with the rest schedule and the stakes involved in the Finals, your top players are just on the floor longer. Are at their best in a faster tempo, which is how the Spurs prefer to play. Startlingly effective in transition.

The case against Miami: Serious and persistent rebounding issues from a lack of quality bigs, which could really cost them if Tim Duncan can turn back time for four games out of seven. Struggle to score when the threes aren't falling, or when James isn't supernatural. The bench gets exposed when they have to take starter minutes or responsibilities. Have been getting great performances out of Chris Anderson and Rashard Lewis, which is to say, two guys who really aren't that great, and could shrink in a spotlight. Prone to Heroball, and while that works more than it should when you have the best player in the world, it's still not conducive to wins when it occurs. Might not be as motivated or desperate as their opponents, since they are merely defending a crown, rather than achieving it for the first time in years. Also might not feel particular urgency in winning this one, as it's just one in a series.

The case for San Antonio: Really should have won this series last year, and would have without Ray Allen's miracle three. The best ball movement in the NBA, which generates high percentage shots without an due amount of turnovers, which makes even Miami have issues in shutting them down in the half court. Boris Diaw is playing the best ball of his life, and could be another matchup problem for the Heat. In Kawhi Leonard, they have one of the better matchups for James in the Association. Tony Parker's mid-range game is increasingly exotic and effective in the modern dish or arc NBA. Can go 10 or 11 deep with truly different looks, and have the best coach in the Association to make all of that work. Aren't afraid of winning ugly with intentional fouling, exotic zones, or deferring to a role player, which makes them downright difficult to prepare for. Have survived and thrived through three playoff series against quality opponents, unlike the Heat. Have home court advantage, which matters.

The case against San Antonio: If Parker isn't healthy and spectacular, it's hard to see how they win 4 out of 7, and Parker has been in and out of the line up for a while now. Have had problems winning on the road in these playoffs. Will need players like Danny Green and Diaw to show up in more games than they miss, and probably won't get that in the glare of the Finals. Tiago Splitter got famously owned here last year by James, and might not be over it. Will need Leonard to not just check James on defense, but contribute on offense, and he's probably not that good. Deep teams can suffer in close and late situations where the refs defer to stars. For the first time in this playoff season, won't have a clear and immense coaching advantage. While parts of this team are better, Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Parker are not, and that's the sum and substance of close games.

The pick: Heat in six, despite the lack of home court. James is just too good, and Allen and Wade too prone to make the big open shots, to not get it done again... and they've got more rest to boot. I also don't think Parker can stay healthy. But if he can, this really could be a hell of a series. It better be, given how we've waited twelve months to see it, and could easily be back here again next year.

Conference finals: 2-0

Year to date: 11-3

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