The NBA Finals are finally here. After a long, grueling season full of injuries to stars, and a postseason featuring some unwatchable first round series (cough cough, Bucks-Heat, Bulls-Nets, cough cough), here is our reward.
Here are some key questions that will determine the outcome of this series:
1. How will the Heat guard Tony Parker?
Tony Parker is the catalyst of the Spurs offense. His penetration creates opportunities for everyone else, and the key for the Heat to stop the Spurs is to contain Parker. One possibility is to put James on Parker; Spoelstra, however, does not like to put LeBron on opponent's star offensive players unless absolutely necessary. In the Pacers series, James only guarded Paul George for important stretches of the game. Instead, Spoelstra prefers to utilize LeBron as a center fielder, playing off the ball, providing excellent help, and picking off lazy passes.
So more likely than not, it will be up to Chalmers or Cole to try to stop Parker from getting into the paint. The Heat's usual aggressive strategy on defending the pick and roll may not work against a team as disciplined as the Spurs, so Spoelstra will have to adjust his defensive schemes.
2. Can the Spurs role players step up?
Unlike Miami's bench, San Antonio's role players are mostly unproven on a big stage. Last year against the Thunder, many role players shrunk when OKC turned up the defensive pressure. Can Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Matt Bonner, and Tiago Splitter step up when Miami's defense forces Parker, Ginobili, and Duncan to give up the ball? Can they create offense for themselves and for their teammates? Offensively, the Spurs' second unit can potentially be a weak link. The Heat will definitely smother Ginobili, so who will step up in that backcourt? Cory Joseph or Gary Neal will have to have more of a role on offense to force the defense to give Ginobili more freedom.
3. Will we see Games 1-6 Wade or Game 7 Wade?
If Dwyane Wade plays like he did in Game 7, or even 75% of that, the Heat cannot be stopped. That, however, is a big if. First of all, we don't really know how healthy he is. There is no doubt that the knee is still bothering him and hindering his mobility and aggressiveness. Second, asking Wade to produce consistently on a superstar basis has been almost impossible this season. The good news for Heat fans: D-Wade will be inspired. He will play with a chip on his shoulder, and will be out to prove the critics wrong, that he is not a washed up, broken down shell of the artist formerly known as Dwyane Wade.
4. Can Miami's small ball work?
Miami's small ball lineup, featuring Chalmers, Wade, James, Battier, and Bosh, was largely unsuccessful against the Pacers because Indiana had two good post players: Roy Hibbert and David West. As a result, Miami could not use their best lineup and struggled mightily. Either Splitter or Diaw has to bully Battier and establish himself as a force in the post to force Miami's small ball lineup off the floor.
5. Who can protect the ball and score easy baskets?
The Spurs and the Heat are two remarkably similar teams with remarkably similar styles. This Miami superteam was built on the Spurs blueprint: shooters in the corners, crisp, smart passing, unselfish teamwork, and good team defense. In the regular season, the two teams had almost identical team stats in both offense and defense. So most likely, this series will come down to transition and second-chance points, rebounds, and turnovers. Both teams are incredibly talented, disciplined, and well-coached; it will be the little things that determine the outcome of the series.
Let's hope that the Spurs did not get too much rest and won't come out too rusty for Game 1. That way, the game, and the series, should be incredibly entertaining.
My heart says the Spurs, but my brain says the Heat. Will Tim Duncan get a ring 14 years after he got his first? Or will LeBron James continue his reign atop the basketball world?