Why The San Antonio Spurs Should Be Favored To Win The NBA Finals Over The Miami Heat
The NBA Finals tips off Thursday, June 6 at 9:00 PM ET on ABC, featuring a red-hot San Antonio Spurs team and the NBA’s juggernaut Miami Heat, who have dominated the NBA over the course of the regular season with a league best 66-16 record. But while the Miami Heat are the defending champions as well as the team with LeBron James, who is the best player in the world, I will argue that the San Antonio Spurs are the ones who should be favored to win this series.
The first reason why the Spurs should be favored to win this series is their experience over the course of 14 years. The Spurs won their first title in 1999, and now are in their fifth NBA Finals appearance 14 years later in 2013. Tim Duncan, the anchor of the franchise has been a dominant presence for all four of the Spurs’ championship teams, and he has had Gregg Popovich as his head coach for all four of those titles. If you think LeBron James and Erik Spoelstra have a good relationship, imagine what kind of relationship Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich have. Popovich and Duncan are really close and together have formed one of the most dominating franchises in NBA history over the course of more than a decade. In addition to Popovich and Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have been present for the vast bulk of the Spurs’ championship runs, being present for three of their four titles. This doesn’t mean that the Heat aren’t experienced. LeBron James is playing in his fourth NBA Finals, Dwyane Wade is in his fourth, Chris Bosh in his third, Ray Allen in his third, Udonis Haslem in his fourth, and Erik Spoelstra is coaching in his third NBA Finals. However, where the experience really comes into play is with Popovich and Duncan over LeBron James and Erik Spoelstra. It’s been a rocky road for LeBron and Erik, and they haven’t always yielded success in the Finals. Not only did the Heat first lose in the Finals to the Mavericks in 2011, but LeBron James also lost to the Spurs in the 2007 NBA Finals. Popovich and Duncan on the other hand have won 4 titles in 4 trips to the Finals. History tells us they consistently know how to get it done in the NBA Finals, whereas with LeBron James and Erik Spoelstra, the results have been mixed. For Erik Spoelstra and LeBron James, their system is still somewhat a work in progress relative to Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan, who have been a well oiled machine for 14 years. This means that not only do the Spurs have the experience advantage, but they also have the coaching advantage, too.
In addition to having the advantage in coaching and experience, the Spurs also are a much deeper team than the Miami Heat. Over the course of the playoffs, the Heat have relied on LeBron James to carry the load, which he has so far done superbly. In the playoffs, LeBron James has averaged 26.2 points, 6.4 assists, and 7.3 rebounds per game, numbers that are simply fantastic. However after him, it’s quite a drop off. Dwyane Wade is averaging a career low 14.1 points per game in the playoffs largely due to his knee not holding up, Chris Bosh has been averaging 12.3 points and 5.4 rebounds per game this post season due to his skittish behavior around the rim, and Ray Allen is averaging only 10 points per game off the bench. That’s only four guys scoring in double figures, two of which (Bosh and Wade) are playing less effectively than usual. The struggles of Bosh and Wade are forcing LeBron James to ratchet up his game to superhuman levels since beyond Bosh and Wade, there really isn’t anybody to rely on. Ray Allen has been inconsistent, Udonis Haslem doesn’t always show up, Shane Battier has been quiet, and Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole really are there to more or less fill niche roles as shooters, defenders, and facilitators. The reality is the Heat don’t have a lot of depth beyond LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwayne Wade, and with Wade and Bosh struggling that means LeBron needs to play even better since his bench has been playing so erratically.
The Spurs on the other hand have a much more balanced attack and also have their own stars to go against the big three of the Heat. Their point guard Tony Parker is playing at an MVP level himself, averaging 23 points and 7 assists in the playoffs. In addition to Parker’s stellar play, power forward Tim Duncan is averaging 17.8 points per game and 9.2 rebounds per game, small forward Kawhi Leonard is averaging 13 points and 8 rebounds,and Manu Ginobili and Danny Green each are averaging around 10 points per game. The bottom line is the Spurs are more balanced and deep than the Heat are, and this I have shown without mentioning point guard Gary Neal and power forward Tiago Splitter, two guys who also play very well. The Spurs aren’t as dependent on one guy as the Heat are. For the Spurs, Tony Parker or Tim Duncan could have an off night and they could still win, whereas if LeBron James has an off night, the Heat are toast.
Another reason why the Spurs should be favored to win this series is because they are playing better than the Heat are right now. If it weren’t for the Indiana Pacers wetting their pants in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Heat would not be in the NBA Finals right now. The Spurs on the other hand are coming off a sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference Finals, and have been relaxing for 10 days while the Heat were hanging on for dear life against the Pacers. The fact of the matter is the Spurs are in a groove that the Heat are not in. The Spurs are a well oiled machine as a collective whole, and everybody on that team knows what they are supposed to do and then proceed to execute the game plan to perfection. This is largely due to the fear and respect that they have for their coach Gregg Popovich, whose stare can pierce the hearts of all basketball players.
Lastly, the Spurs aren’t afraid of the Miami Heat. This may not sound like much of a reason, but it actually is the most important reason to favor the Spurs in this series. Like I said earlier, the Indiana Pacers wet their pants against the Heat and got scared in Game 7. The moment was too big for these guys, including their head coach Frank Vogel. The Pacers will be a force to reckon with for many seasons to come, but this season, they just weren’t mentally ready to take that jump to “NBA Finals Mode”. The Thunder likewise also went stupid against the Heat last year, clearly afraid of the aura that surrounded the Miami Heat and specifically LeBron James.
The Spurs on the other hand won’t have this problem. When they look at the Heat, they see a team that has lost in the Finals, and is therefore vulnerable. They see a team that can be exploited on the glass, a team whose coach Erik Spoelstra is a goofy child-puppet of Pat Riley bowing before the feet of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, doing whatever they say. When they walk into the Miami arena and they see two championship banners, they know that they have four championship banners in San Antonio. When they see LeBron James, they know that they have the greatest power forward of all time in Tim Duncan on their team, and arguably the best point guard in the league in Tony Parker on their team. The Spurs aren’t afraid of the Heat, and honestly why should they be? They have more championships than they do, and they have been at this way longer than the Heat have. By the time Dwayne Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh joined forces like the power rangers in Miami, the Spurs already had cemented themselves as the dynasty of the decade with 4 NBA Championships, whereas the Heat were yet to have one iota of respect from anybody in the basketball world.
The reason that the Miami Heat are here in the NBA Finals isn’t just because they benefit from the great play of LeBron James, but also because they benefit from the aura and mystique that surrounds him. The Indiana Pacers pound for pound and player for player were a better team than the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. Their size exploited the Heat’s lack of size, their defense made life hell for Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, and they even had their own star in Paul George to combat LeBron James. The reason that they didn’t finish off the Heat wasn’t because they weren’t the better team. It was because they were intimidated by the Heat. The biggest advantage the Heat had over the Pacers was not their talent on the court, it was the mental hold they had over them because of the mere presence of LeBron James being on the basketball court. When the Spurs go against the Heat in this series, the aura and mystique that surrounds LeBron James and the Heat will have evaporated, and that is because of the presence of Tim Duncan and the knowledge that they have gotten the job done every time they play in the NBA Finals.
—Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord