Wednesday, June 4, 2014

2014 NBA Finals preview

By Rick Morris

As the team listed as a narrow favorite in this series, it’s worth wondering how apprehensive San Antonio may be in terms of the task of toppling Miami.  It’s impossible to deny the Heat’s status as a favored son in the league and furthermore, that the league gets the outcomes that they deem most favorable from a marketing standpoint (witness the atrocity that was the 2006 Finals).  This version of the Heat is so good that the league actually stacked the deck against them with the officiating in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals just to get a sixth game.  Rarely if ever has the NBA gone against one of their pets, even tactically.  So it’s easy to start from the premise that everyone is giving the Spurs a good chance simply because last year’s Finals went seven games and because it’s human nature to want an epic clash even if it may not exist.

It’s true that San Antonio’s home court is amplified by the return of the 2-2-1-1-1 format to the Finals for the first time since 1984 – and the combined 17-1 record of these teams at home in these playoffs.

And there are a few stats that point San Antonio’s way.  Last year, the Spurs led the Heat in free throw percentage, 79.1% to 75.4% and this year the gap is wider, 83.5% to 76.5%.  Also, Miami remains a horrid rebounding team, notching only 36.9 per game (actually down from last year’s pathetic 38.6 tally).  San Antonio comes in at a nice 43.3, up an even two rebounds from last year.

But Coach Spo’s theft of a Coach Pop coaching philosophy may outweigh all of this.  The Spurs have taken to resting their aging stars aggressively, actually achieving the all-time rarity this year of keeping EVERYONE on their roster below a 30 MPG average.  However, D Wade has also been kept in the bubble wrap pretty aggressively this year and the strategy has paid off in the postseason.  He verged on being a liability for parts of last year’s Finals and that’s unlikely to be the case this year.

Of course, the overriding difference between these teams is the Big Three vs. Unmatched Depth dynamic.  Miami’s role players step up just often enough to keep from costing the team excessively, but nobody will ever confuse them with San Antonio’s “Foreign Legion.”  But the Spurs, who might as well have James Hetfield belt out “Hero of the Day” before every game, should have learned last June the limits of this strategy.  Danny Green completely and utterly dominated Miami for several games – before remembering that he was Danny Green.  With the dynamic of NBA basketball being what it has been for several decades, you never bet against the mega-stars – and the perception by the league that what’s good for them is good for the Association.  Miami in six (10-4 record through the first three rounds).

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