Miami 66-16 (First seed in East)
San Antonio 58-24 (Second seed in West)
San Antonio 12-2 (swept the Lakers 4-0, beat the Warriors 4-2, swept the Grizzlies)
Miami: 12-4 (swept Milwaukee 4-0, beat Chicago 4-1, went 7 to beat Pacers)
This was the most meaningless 1-1 season series ever. The first game was the Thursday night national television game where Gregg Popovich sent Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili home early (it was the second night of a road back-to-back) and got the team a $250,000 fine for embarrassing David Stern. Next time these teams met the Heat rested LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, but the Heat were sensible enough to lie to the league office in advance about why they had to sit. So no fines.
Both teams are playing through some minor injuries, but nobody is expected to miss games. Dwyane Wade will be the biggest question mark — he looked grounded through six games of the last round then suddenly reminded everyone of his old self in Game 7. So which Wade shows up this series?
OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession) – PLAYOFFS ONLY
Miami: offense, 108.4 (1st in postseason); defense 97.6 (4th in postseason)
San Antonio: offense 106.5 (2nd in postseason); defense 95.4 (1st in postseason)
THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES:
Spurs ball movement vs. Heat pressure defense. If you saw Game 7 Monday night when the Heat wiped the floor with the Pacers, you see what Miami’s athleticism and pressure can do to even a good offense. Miami is big, athletic and they use that to force turnovers (which become alley-oops going the other way). But do you really think Tony Parker is going to melt from that? San Antonio’s ball movement could break the Heat’s pressure not totally unlike Dallas did to them in the finals two years ago. If Miami’s traps disrupt the Spurs ball movement Miami wins. But if the ball moves to open shooters and Danny Green or Matt Bonner are knocking down threes, advantage Spurs.
LeBron James vs. Kawhi Leonard. No one man stops LeBron James… but one man can make his life more difficult (Paul George did a respectable job last round). . Kawhi Leonard will be the best defender LeBron will see these playoffs, and if Leonard can just make LeBron have to really work for his points, that’s a huge plus for the Spurs. The help defense behind Leonard also needs to be sharp — Tim Duncan is smart about this, but Tiago Splitter can be a step slow at times, he does that this round and he’s in a LeBron poster.
Who controls paint/can the Heat rebound? Gregg Popovich is a smart man, he was taking notes on what the Pacers did to push the Heat to a seventh game — Indiana worked the ball inside, drew fouls to get to the line and dominated the offensive glass. The Spurs don’t have the raw size of the Pacers, but Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan are both smart, aggressive and a still bigger front line that will be able to hurt the Heat inside. In the games it won the Pacers grabbed around 40 percent of their missed shots as offensive rebounds, if the Spurs can keep that number above 30 percent they will give the Heat fits this series.
This is a great matchup on paper because San Antonio should do things that really bother the Heat.
For one, they are strong inside, too. While San Antonio doesn’t have anyone the size of Roy Hibbert they do have two legitimate, physical big men in Splitter and Duncan and the Spurs will get points inside. The Spurs can play physical; they just dusted the physical Grizzlies in four games.
What is more, Tony Parker is going to be a real problem for them. Miami has struggled at times against teams with top point guards — and right now Parker is playing at an MVP-like level. He’s averaging 23 points on 47.percent shooting (37 percent from three), plus dishing out 7.2 assists per game these playoffs. If he can get past the first-line of defense and into the paint the Heat will be in trouble. If he can deal with the aggressive traps of the Heat and move the ball to open shooters (who hit their shots) the Heat could be in trouble.
For the Spurs, the question these playoff was always could they beat a very athletic team? They didn’t last year, falling to the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals. But this year, due to the Russell Westbrook injury, the most athletic team the Spurs faced getting to the finals was Golden State, and while they have a couple good athletes on the roster they don’t compare to the Heat that way.
How does San Antonio deal with that? Which is another way of asking, what do they do when the Heat hit that extra gear they showed in Game 7 (and a couple other times against the Pacers)?
Heat in six. The Spurs have a shot in this, they have the tools to exploit the Heat’s weaknesses and we know they are not going to melt down in the moment. But in the end this is a close series where a handful of times the Heat will hit the turbo button and go play on another level that the Spurs cannot stop. That will be enough to put Miami over the top.