Who Will Win The NBA Finals?

The Miami Heat have returned to the NBA Finals for the third straight year, looking to reaffirm the dominance the arrival of the big three appears to have heralded. In the way of the defending Champions are the San Antonio Spurs, a team perhaps in the last days of an era that has seen them win four titles thanks to a star trio of their own. Adam Digby takes a look at what to expect.

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As was noted in our Eastern Conference Playoff Preview, the NBA is unlike other sports, as the playoff system eliminates the likelihood of a team streaking its way to a title. It almost always ensures the best team advances, and now, after seven months and over 1,200 regular season games, we’re down to just two. Twenty-eight other teams have already ‘gone fishing,’ as Miami and San Antonio prepare to face off over seven games in the NBA Finals to discover which is the best in the world.

Why Miami Can Win

Both have enjoyed excellent seasons, and each has a recent history to rival any in the game today. The Heat boast the league’s best record this year, but it took the second longest winning streak of all time for them to surpass the Spurs for that honour. That the Chicago Bulls ended 27 game run, an opponent Miami – fresh from sweeping a helpless Milwaukee Bucks – simply brushed aside in the second round of these playoffs.

The Conference Finals were their toughest test, but the Indiana Pacers eventually crumbled under a combination of game seven pressure and the Heat’s smothering defence. If we take the NBA’s simplest truth that the team with the best player usually prevails, LeBron James will win every single time. His season – with averages of 26.8 points, 8 rebounds, 7.3 assists, and 1.7 steals per game – came with an incredible 56.5% shooting average, and ranks among the very best of all time. He became the youngest player to surpass 20,000 career points, and was one vote short of being the first ever-unanimous choice as league MVP.

In these playoffs, he has taken his game to yet another level. While his numbers have dropped - 26.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 6.4 assists per outing – he has delivered when it matters most. Three games scoring over thirty points, a triple double, and a buzzer beating layup against Indiana saw him refer to his ‘Cleveland days.’ He has had to be that dominant to see off the formidable challenge of the Pacers. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have – through a combination of injury, age and Indiana’s excellent defending – struggled to support James, forcing him to once again pull on the Superman cape he regularly donned as a Cavalier.

The key to overcoming problems rests squarely on James, the greatest in the game today, and with him in the line-up, you can never rule out Miami. But now more than ever, the Heat big three will need help from other players. Ray Allen, Chris Anderson, Shane Battier and the Miami bench will need to be at their best to support James, particularly if Wade’s knee continues to limit his effectiveness. LeBron will always look to share the load offensively, but as we saw in the Indiana series, if the shots of others aren’t falling, it becomes difficult for the Heat to win. San Antonio – who quietly recorded the third highest defensive efficiency rating this season (0.980) and allowed the fifth lowest number of three point field goals – can be expected to run Miami’s shooters off the line.

2013 NBA Finals Pre-Series Odds

 BetfredBet365LadbrokesWilliamHillPinnacle Sports
Miami Heat To Win Series 1.44 1.41 1.44 1.44 1.40
San Antonio Spurs To Win Series 2.75 3.00 2.88 2.88 2.88
Miami To Win 4-0 8.00 8.50 8.00 9.00 8.50
Miami To Win 4-1 3.60 3.75 6.00 5.00 4.00
Miami To Win 4-2 5.00 5.00 4.00 4.00 4.50
Miami To Win 4-3 4.50 4.50 4.40 4.00 4.33
San Antonio To Win 4-2 7.50 7.00 9.00 7.00 7.00
San Antonio To Win 4-3 8.00 8.50 9.00 8.00 8.00

Odds as at 5th June 2013.

Why San Antonio Can Win

It is strange to think that two of Miami’s big three are fading, just as the Spurs own trio are rising to levels they have not shown in years. In fact, the last time Manu Ginobli, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan combined to play as well as they are right now was in 2007, when they swept James and the Cavs aside to seal their fourth Championship. Parker, rather than Duncan may now lead them, but if they are to prevail, it will be as a result of the matchup problems they can create rather than one player outplaying James.

The two guards form one of the league’s best backcourts of all time, one that will seriously test the perimeter defence of Miami. Without the ball, the Heat look to disrupt and confuse opponents, but if there is one team who can navigate the chaos Eric Spoelstra’s scheme seeks to create, it is the clockwork veterans of San Antonio. Since Greg Popovich arrived in Texas, he has preached the value of repetitive execution, of making the right play each and every time down the floor. With the Spurs so well rested ahead of Game One, their biggest issue is likely to be shaking off the rust that such a layoff ensures.

Opening on the road removes the pressure of needing to do so immediately, and they will undoubtedly be buoyed by the play of Parker thus far in these playoffs. The point guard made a mockery of the Grizzlies incredible defence, bending two of the NBA's best on-ball defenders – Tony Allen and Mike Conley – to his will. In the sweep of Memphis, his midrange jump shot was as good as ever; his decision-making was simply impeccable as he ran their offence. Coming off countless screens, he registered 18 assists in Game 2, and then dropped 37 points in the closeout game, staking his claim as the best player of the post-season thus far.

Perhaps, the key battle in this series will surprisingly be Danny Green against Wade, as the Spurs guard is in constant motion on offence, running all over the floor. Popovich will likely take advantage of Wade’s knee by running him off screens and into trouble. Green has shot 43% from beyond the three point arc this postseason, a vital weapon as the Spurs come up with a game plan – or more likely plans, plural – to contain the Heat.

As the Pacers also highlighted, the inside presence of Roy Hibbert caused serious problems for Miami, forcing them to play bigger line-ups, and making Battier an non-factor in the series. Duncan will do all that and more, his length, intelligence and skill far above anything Hibbert at his best can achieve. He has proven throughout the playoffs – and indeed his career – that he can tailor his play to expose any weakness in his opponents, and Bosh will not relish going against him over this series. After being pounded by Hibbert, Popovich and Duncan will hope to continue beating the Heat’s weak interior, forcing them to alter their rotations in order to better match up with the Spurs.

Final Thoughts

At 37, Tim Duncan has enjoyed one of his best seasons, fully healthy and averaging 17.8 points and 9.2 rebounds, good enough to see him become the oldest player since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to be voted to the All NBA First Team. He also has a chance to become the first player since the Lakers legend to win Finals MVP awards fourteen years apart, if he wins the accolade this season. After taking the conference finals to seven games, Hibbert spoke out about the lack of media attention on his team, a complaint you would never hear from the press-shy Spurs.

Duncan, in particular, has made a career of not talking, and he may well be regretting an exchange with James following that 2007 Finals sweep. The victorious Spur told a young Lebron: “this is going to be your league in a little while. I appreciate you giving us this year."

Six seasons later, Duncan is hoping to postpone that coronation for a little while longer.

 

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You can follow Adam on Twitter: @Adz77

And read more of his work at ESPN.com