It feels like eons since the San Antonio Spurs last played a game.
At last, on Thursday evening, they’ll get to suit up against the Miami Heat for Game 1 of the 2013 NBA Finals.
Miami convincingly won Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers, but it was a grueling series. The Pacers definitely deserve high praise for making it deep into the playoffs without what used to be their best player, Danny Granger. When I qualify that with ‘used to,’ I mean that Paul George emerged as a star this season and in the playoffs in Granger’s absence. Also, Roy Hibbert continued to make his name known. The Pacers gave many indications that they could make it to the Finals this year. It’ll be interesting to see how Granger will fit in and change the team’s dynamic when he’s healthy again.
Anyway, in the Finals matchup, the Heat will face an even more formidable opponent than the Pacers. While this may not be the dream TV-ratings matchup for casual fans and David Stern, the Spurs will definitely test the mettle of the defending champs. At least the matchup is better than the Spurs and the Pacers — with all due respect to Indiana — which would have been a ratings disaster. Although the Spurs, as consistent and elite as they have been over the past decade, are generally “ratings killers,” relatively speaking, this matchup may still have a chance to draw a large audience on television, especially if the series goes six or seven games. I stand by this statement because you will see the best player in basketball, LeBron James, go up against the toughest possible obstacle he could possibly face. And I think people will want to see if he’s up to the challenge.
I am looking for this to be a long and grind-it-out series, and here are some of the X-factors and question marks to look out for in the Finals:
Spurs’ X-factors: Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Tiago Splitter
The Spurs will win games where either Leonard or Green, or both, has a strong performance, including several three-pointers. Anytime Splitter has a good game will be a plus for the Spurs and put them in good position to win.
Heat’s X-factors: Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller, Ray Allen, Chris Andersen
When the Heat won the championship last year, they often won games in the playoffs when a player like Chalmers or Miller came out of nowhere to have a huge game. They will need Chalmers and Miller to step up for a game or two each to get Miami to that magic number of four. Allen, still in his first season with Miami, will be in the same boat with those two this year. The more threes, the merrier. Andersen, despite being unemployed at the beginning of the season, has mostly been able to fill a huge void for the Heat in the playoffs. You saw how the Heat missed him during his suspension in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and then the impact he made on the final game of that series. Also, if Chris Bosh has a tough time guarding Tim Duncan, “Birdman” Andersen will have to switch with Bosh and try to make a difference.
Spurs’ question mark: Manu Ginobili
Will Ginobili continue to play like the leader and star he was during the mid-2000s and as he was during the Western Conference Finals against the Grizzlies? Or will he get banged up and play minimal minutes or be marginally effective as he was during most of the regular season?
Heat’s question marks: Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh
Big Three, where are you? Wade and Bosh have often sunk into the background during most of the playoffs. Wade had mostly solid, yet unspectacular games during the Eastern Finals. Bosh’s last four outings of the seven-game series were substandard. When asking why the Heat almost were upset by the Pacers, critics can point several fingers to these two. If the Heat want to repeat this year, Wade and Bosh are going to have to start playing like stars again. Else, the Spurs could end up hoisting their first championship trophy since 2007.