I had both winners of the Conference Finals, picking the Spurs and Heat to advance, but I had the quality of the series' flip-flopped. San Antonio was the better team in all four games against the Grizz, a series I expected to be much tighter than it was. The Heat, on the other hand, struggled much more than expected; not because the Pacers aren't a good team, but because the Heat had just been on another level. Not only did they rattle of 27 wins in a row earlier in the year, but they were 8-1 in the playoffs going into the series, and seemed poised for another championship run. Roy Hibbert, Paul George, and David West proved to be a pretty formidable Big Three, but ultimately, the Heat were able to dispatch of them in a lopsided Game Seven in Miami.
Much has been made of the long layoff that San Antonio has had between
sweeping Memphis, and Game 1 of the NBA Finals coming up on June 6th.
Personally, I think the Spurs are a team that the rest will greatly
benefit. Last year, the Spurs were playing tremendous basketball, and I
still have no idea what happened for them to lose four consecutive
games to Oklahoma City. This year, the Spurs did not have the same
steam coming in to the playoffs, but they have clearly been the best in
the West, and earned their trip to the Finals. Tim Duncan seems to have
found the fountain of youth, and at 37 is playing just about as well as
he ever has, which is certainly saying something, considering he is
thought of by most to be the best power forward in NBA history. Tony
Parker is also back to the MVP form from early in the year. For the
Spurs, this will be their fifth Finals appearance in the
Duncan-Poppovich era. They won all four previous trips, with the most
recent title coming against LeBron James and the Cavs.
The Heat have been the team with a target on their backs the entire
year. They are the defending NBA Champions, and have had to take
everyone's best shot all year long. Although they have had lingering
injuries, specifically Dwyane Wade, for much of the year, and an aging
cast of shooters who did not really show up in the Eastern Conference
Finals, Miami found a way to get back for the third consecutive year.
Since joining the Heat, LeBron is 3/3 in Finals appearances, and could
become a champion for the second year in a row.
In many ways, this series is a referendum on LeBron's place in history.
Many analyst's have defended LeBron, saying that his supporting cast
has been as bad, if not worse, than the one he had in Cleveland.
History, however, is not going to remember that supporting cast in the
same way. As good as Wade, Chris Bosh, Ray Allen, Shane Battier, etc.
have been, none of them are going to be compared to the elite of the
elite, and talked about in the discussion for the GOAT. For LeBron,
however, not getting a ring, for ANY reason, is going to be in paragraph
one of his bio when all is said and done for him.
I think this has the makings of a fantastic series, and it's a matchup
we really haven't seen. In the two games that the Spurs and Heat played
this year, San Antonio rested all their big guns in Miami, and the Heat
did the same thing on the road at San Antonio. I'm expecting a
back-and-forth series, but I think that ultimately, LeBron and Miami
will be up to "not two" as far as championships go. The Pacers defense
exposed some of the Heat's flaws, but they were still able to make
adjustments and advance. I don't see the role players like Allen and
Battier to be as bad as they were against Indiana, and D-Wade showed us
in Game 7 that he still has something left in the tank. Bosh was
mentally defeated by West and Hibbert, but will get a fresh start
against Duncan and the Spurs. It is going to be another tall task, but I
think he will fare better.
And at the end of the day, the Heat have a
weapon that no team in the league has. LeBron is as intelligent of a
player as there is in the league, and his ability to be either Magic or
Michael, depending on what the team needs, gives them an advantage that
is tough to counter. If anyone can figure out a way to stop him, it's
Pop, and I'm looking forward to the coaching matchup as much as anything
else. But at the end of the day, I'll take LeBron and the Heat in 6.
Prediction: Miami Heat in 6 Games
[Note: This post is from John Trifone. See his other basketball posts here and/or follow him on Twitter @JohnnyT0122.]