This year’s NBA Finals is a rematch of last year’s epic seven game series that saw the Miami Heat win their second consecutive championship. It is the first Finals rematch since the 1998 series between the Chicago Bulls and the Utah Jazz.
The San Antonio Spurs will be looking for revenge after they should have won last year’s series in six, if not for several missed free throws down the stretch and a miracle three-pointer by Ray Allen after an offensive rebound by Chris Bosh.
The Heat went on to win in overtime, and then took a tightly contested Game 7. You may be getting sick of seeing the Spurs and the Heat all the time; as they’ve been here quite a bit lately. But I’m going to give you a fresh twist on the Finals
You can find 100 Finals previews on the internet, basically telling you the same thing. I am going to focus on some keys to the series that you may not have considered.
Battle Tested vs The Easy Road
Anyone who follows the NBA knows that the Western Conference was far superior to the East this season. According to Sagarin’s NBA Power Rankings, 9 of the top 10 teams this season played out west. The Phoenix Suns won 48 games and missed the playoffs in the West, while the Toronto Raptors’ 48 wins was good enough for the #3 seed in the East.
The Spurs finished with the best record in the league despite playing the much tougher WC schedule. The Heat were able to coast through much of the regular season, and they weren’t really challenged in the EC playoffs, either.
I asked ABC Finals analyst Mark Jackson if being more tested vs having an easy path to the Finals gave either team an advantage, and he told me “I think that’s a great question. I think the Spurs being battle tested this year certainly puts them in position.”
I happen to agree- while both teams obviously have tons of playoff and Finals experience, I think that the Spurs have a huge edge by having played many more games against quality competition this year.
Each team has outstanding benches- with San Antonio it doesn’t seem to matter who is the on the floor, while Miami has the experience with Ray Allen, Shane Battier, and Chris Andersen all playing huge roles in last year’s Finals.
Jeff Van Gundy told The Sports Bank “I think both teams are missing some people who had a major impact on last year’s series. Gary Neal had some great moments for San Antonio. Mike Miller, obviously, had some great moments, had a great run for Miami.”
These two teams are so close that it could come down to which new player has the most impact, the Spurs’ Marco Belinelli or Heat forward Rashard Lewis.
Tony Parker is the big question mark health-wise coming into the series- he missed the second half of the Spurs’ series-clinching win over the Thunder with a sore ankle, and he had hamstring problems earlier in the postseason. The Spurs have limited the minutes for their main players all season, but the Heat did a great job of resting Dwyane Wade throughout the season as well.
When asked if either team had an edge in the series, Van Gundy told me “I think so much of it depends on Parker’s health. If he’s healthy, obviously, the Spurs have a great opportunity. If he’s hobbled, I think Miami has a better opportunity.” Jackson added that “I think the health of Wade and Ginobili will play a huge factor. They’re at a different place right now.”
Injuries are always a huge factor in a close series, but this one is so close that even a minor injury, where an important player on either team misses a half or a quarter, could be the difference.
Barring a major injury, like Parker missing the entire series, I don’t see any way this one doesn’t go seven. Last year’s Game 7 was a one-point game heading to the fourth quarter, and this season’s battle looks just as close. The Heat won last year’s finale at home, and history usually has a way of repeating itself. So, Spurs in 7.
Don Ellis started covering sports professionally when he was 15. He attended Ball State University, and some of his past credits include InsideHoops (columnist) and ESPN Florida (The Florida Sports Reporters, SportsCenter anchor). In addition to running Bullsville.net and writing for The Sports Bank and ChicagoNow (Bullsville), he is also a KHSAA baseball umpire. He’s a 3rd-generation Cubs fan, a Bulls fan since the days of Van Lier and Sloan, and a life-long New England Patriots fan. Follow Don on Twitter @Bullsville.