How do the Spurs and Heat match up?


Jun 6

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And so it has come to this, Thursday for Game 1, the expected Miami Heat back in the NBA Finals for the third consecutive season, and the unexpected San Antonio Spurs back for the first time since 2007 after being pretty much dismissed before the season, as usual, as most expected a rematch with the Oklahoma City Thunder or a dream match with Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Miami Heat are the guys with the black hats, as it were, the basketball version of the old Dallas Cowboys or New York Yankees, the team a bit too successful and a bit too full of themselves to engender much affection. Not that the Spurs do with their repeating metronome of an offense, which is much more entertaining in recent years led more by Tony Parker than Tim Duncan.

The Spurs are the majority fans’ choice probably less for who they are, though they are quietly on the verge of an amazing dynasty going for a fifth championship since 1999, than for who they are playing.

It’s, of course, ridiculous as Miami’s LeBron James is the best and most exciting player to watch in the NBA these days, and it’s hardly like the way Dwyane Wade is breaking down and Chris Bosh appears frightened by anyone weighing more than 235 pounds that Miami is going to dominate for much longer.

Still, getting a second consecutive title will put Miami up there with the ’89-’90 Pistons and -94-’95 Rockets. That’s right, no history quite yet.

Thursday’s Game 1 is an unusual first meeting since Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sent most of his players home — and was fined $250,000 — before the teams’ first meeting in November. And then Heat coach Erik Spoelstra sat James and Wade when the teams met again in March. Miami won both games, though just barely and how about that Nando de Colo. I just love saying that name.

The last meeting of consequence between these teams may have been when Willie Anderson and Frank Brickowski were pushing around Jon Sundvold and Rony Seikaly.

Duncan is going for five for five in his NBA Finals while James is going for two of four while Wade is working on his third title and looking about as active and alert as Shaq did in 2006 when Wade won his first.

There’ll be a lot of Game 1 post game analysis about whether the long rest of about 10 days since sweeping Memphis aided the older Spurs or left them too relaxed, as Miami suggested it was when it lost Game 1 to the Bulls in the conference semifinals after sweeping Milwaukee and the Bulls playing a seventh game in Brooklyn.

This time the Heat survived a seventh game, and probably had the tougher road. Not that the Bulls and Pacers were championship material. But both played a rugged style that is the most difficult for Miami. Both played slower, not enabling the Heat to fast break as much, and both were among the top rebounding teams, a Miami weakness.

A word about Indiana first. They’re good, and they played a nice series more on style than substance. But it helped that Wade often looked more like Von Wafer and Bosh failed to go into the paint for almost two weeks after David West growled at him.

Paul George is an excellent athletic talent, but superstar? C’mon. You don’t have seven points in a Game 7. He doesn’t have a defined offensive game yet with a go to move to score. And Roy Hibbert isn’t going against a 6-5 and under front line other than with Miami. He wasn’t Defensive Player of the Year not because no one watched him but because we did watch him. He’s much improved, but Kareem’s legacy remains safe.

But that’s the prize of getting to the conference finals. Everyone is watching and when you do something the notion is not only you’ll do it all the time, but that you have been. It got guys like Scott Williams, Jud Buechler and Luc Longley big contracts after leaving the Bulls. And a lot of buyers’ remorse.

Still, it was a tough series for Miami. And it wasn’t a particularly tough road for the Spurs.

They got the broken down, beaten up, Dwight Howard drama Lakers and swept them. They then got the midget Warriors, who gave them some odgeda making a bunch of threes. But they got them in six and then came up with the fairly obvious idea that occurred to no one before them that the Grizzlies had traded away all their perimeter shooters. So you sunk in, fronted and overplayed Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Genius! The Spurs swept and have been sipping late afternoon avocado margaritas since.

One of the storylines is the competing Big Threes, which have become the formula for success since the Celtics got Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and Miami got James and Bosh. It probably was popularized by a more famous Big Three in Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, though when the Celtics won 11 titles it really was a Big Seven as they generally had that many Hall of Famers.

LeBron, of course, famously suggested it was a Big One when the Heat was being pushed to that seventh game, and Manu Ginobili still comes off the bench with the third Spurs guy probably Kawhi Leonard, who’ll get the LeBron defensive assignment.

The Heat should enjoy this series more as the Spurs are a faster team than either the Bulls or Pacers, which will enable Miami to get into the open court. Spurs coach Popovich’s best accomplishment — other than scaring all the sideline reporters — was the way he adjusted the Spurs old postup, swing-the-ball offense to a faster, multiple pick and roll game. It’s a classic example of adjusting to your talent, though Popovich balked for a while. Miami’s Spoelstra doesn’t do as well with that as the Heat with the best open court player in the history of the game too often walk the ball up with the typical young coach’s over control of the game, though it is a Pat Riley fundamental as well.

Though Ginobili is one of the game’s most entertaining and creative players, he makes some of the most unimaginable passes that could lead to fast breaks for either the Heat or the old baseline bums from the Hemisfair arena who now sit in the second level. Parker also can be loose with the ball driving, which should favor Miami.

Though the Spurs play two big guys in Duncan and Tiago Splitter, they are not the physical types more befitting the Western Conference than Miami sees in the East. Chris Bosh can come out now.

But the Heat will be facing something new with a deep Spurs bench after the Pacers’ basically was one midget and a man frothing at the mouth. Not only Ginobili, but there’s good shooting Matt Bonner, who should do those sideline interviews given he’s something of a red headed Woody Allen.

The Heat also have had issues with speedy point guards. Heck, they couldn’t control Nate Robinson. What are they going to do with Tony Parker?

Obviously, a lot will depend on the level Wade performs. Even playing better in the Game 7 win over the Pacers, he still wasn’t explosive. The Spurs will harass him with Danny Green with envy, as they might have said on ESPN.

Six years ago, the Spurs swept James and his Cleveland Cavs. But James said in the wake of the conference finals win he was maybe 50 times better now, though his scoring average is down from then.

So it should be a fun and entertaining conclusion to the NBA season, and here’s a look at some of the matchups that could decide it:

Coaching: Gregg Popovich vs. Eric Spoelstra. Popovich, of course, is legendary for his media appearances that scare everyone but Craig Sager, who usually is too busy wondering if his shoes match his scarf. But Spoelstra is not to be taken lightly. He’s fond of vivid imagery and dramatic metaphors, that Game 7’s are a treasure, of desperation of the moment and their struggle is a great place to live. He also has much better hair, styled to look casually mussed. Still, Pop’s a legend whose post game press conferences have been awarded Emmys. Edge: Spurs

MVP’s: LeBron James vs. Tony Parker. Parker got himself in the conversation, though it was mostly about James except for one vote. They’ve both matured as Parker used to pretend not to understand English when Popovich yelled at him and James poses less like Jesus these days. Edge: Heat.

Legends: Tim Duncan vs. LeBron James. James is the best player in the NBA today and there is no one that close. Though it is thoughtful of him not to push the ball full court a lot or post up that much or they’d never lose a game. But Duncan’s the best ever at his position — power forward, officially — and LeBron isn’t quite yet. I’ve got Larry Bird there, though I have to say LeBron’s passed Rick Barry and Elgin Baylor. Maybe not Bob Pettit, but no one has said they’ve seen him play. Edge: Spurs.

Format: With the 2-3-2 of the Finals, it generally means you have to win the series on the road if you want the upset. Sure, you can steal one of the first two and then go home and sweep. But that’s rare, even if the Bulls won the three straight in 1991. Tough to win three straight. Can the Spurs celebrate in Miami? Edge: Heat.

Food: Miami features one of the great delicacies in stone crabs, which are basically lobsters but you don’t have to kill them. The season ends May 15, but they keep enough around for the Finals even if at the famous Joe’s they look at you like you don’t deserve to eat there. San Antonio has Mi Tierra, a 24-hour Mexican restaurant and any gourmet knows there’s nothing like an enchilada at 5 a.m., at least in a city without a White Castle. Plus, they have Christmas lights all year long. Now, that’s atmosphere. Edge: Spurs.

Historic Sites: Alamo vs. South Beach. San Antonio has one of the great sites of American history where the famous defenders symbolized the national spirit in defending the old mission against horrific odds. Miami has among the nation’s best current sites with topless sunbathing off South Beach toward the tip of Miami Beach. Edge: Heat.

City: Hemisfair Tower vs. CSI Miami reruns. The 750-foot tower provides tourists views of flat land pretty much wherever you look. It’s a feat to determine why David Caruso held his head to the side all the time. Edge: Heat

Executives: Pat Riley vs. R.C. Buford. Riley put together the greatest personnel coup of the decade in landing James and Bosh when no one had Miami as a destination. Buford’s put together an amazing roster with two lottery picks, one of whom is Tracy McGrady. Six Spurs are free agents, five signed in season. Starters like Splitter and Parker were picked at the bottom of the first round and Ginobili deep in the second. The Cavs waived Danny Green, who starts for the Spurs. Riley’s famously become a recluse, though Buford won’t even tell us his name. Edge: Spurs

Arena: American Airlines vs. AT&T. The gentle irony is the worst Internet access in the league is in the AT&T arena. Though the generally late arriving Heat crowd parking their boats gets there just in time for the league’s most annoying public address announcer, Michael Baiamonte, to scream “Dos” with two minutes left in the quarter. Yes, it is a multilingual city. Edge: Spurs.

Freaks: Chris “Birdman” Andersen vs. the Coyote. The Heat’s much colorfully tattooed Birdman flaps his arms and gets an occasional rebound, averaging a whopping four so far in the playoffs. The Spurs’ mascot doesn’t talk, but seems much more intelligent. Edge: Spurs.

Attire: There’s nothing like the bright colors and adventurous look in the tropics, which Miami basically is as the only such U.S. destination. Cowboy boots? Edge: Heat.

Geography: River Walk vs. Atlantic Ocean and Biscayne Bay. I’m fairly sure you wouldn’t sink if you fell into the brownish river at that walk, which actually is one of the more pleasant dining, drinking and strolling sites in the U.S. But the ocean and Biscayne Bay! C’mon. Edge: Heat.

Weather: Hurricane season is just getting going, but nothing much comes ashore yet. Mosquito and fire ant season have long been under way in San Antonio. Edge: Heat

Pick: Heat in six.

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