Going into this year’s playoffs, it seemed hard to believe that anyone was going to beat Lebron James and company to prevent a three-peat — that is except for one Western Conference team. The San Antonio Spurs, practically all year, have looked like the best team in the league. Now, on the heels of an easy series against the Portland Trailblazers, the Spurs are positioning themselves for a rematch against the Heat in this year’s finals.
While it appears both of these squads are destined to meet each other for the second consecutive year in the finals, it is not a given. Both Miami and San Antonio have a set of weaknesses, and it may depend on who they play in the next round, if either will be able to contend for a championship.
There has not been a single team in the NBA this postseason that has been as dominant as the Miami Heat. They swept their first round matchup against the Charlotte Bobcats and outlasted the Brooklyn Nets in five. While the Heat did slip by the Nets in a limited amount of games, the series did bring to light glaring weaknesses of the defending champs.
First and foremost, they have close to zero depth. Lebron James is arguably the best player in the league, and he does everything on the team. However, it will be a very arduous task for him to put the team on his back and win another championship. Yes, Dwayne Wade has been decent to very good in these playoffs; however, beyond that there is no one that is consistent. Bosh was close to worthless in the second round, despite his three-pointer dagger in game four. Ray Allen also hit threes when it counted. No one else has been able to put up consistent numbers though, and it is this that will make it hard for the Heat.
Whether they play the Indiana Pacers or the Washington Wizards, they will be at a disadvantage in terms of depth. The Washington Wizards have a starting squad where each player could easily put up 15+ points. As the Chicago Bulls found out and even the Indiana Pacers to a certain extent, they have a lot of weapons, which might be difficult to fend off — even with Miami’s defense.
The Indiana Pacers, though less consistent, also have a squad that can score just as much. They also have secret weapons on the bench such as Luis Scola and C.J. Watson, both of whom can put in a solid game when called upon.
Possibly even worse than Miami’s lack of depth is their lack of size. Bosh is 6’11”; however, he does not have the strength or rebound ability that Washington and Indiana have. In fact, it is James who is the leading rebounder for Miami. Worse yet, they are dead last in rebounds per game in the league this season. This was exposed in the Brooklyn series when they allowed an old Kevin Garnett to outrebound them in most contests. Marcin Gortat, Nene Hilario, David West and a focused Roy Hibbert will destroy them on the boards in all likelihood.
While the Heat have their weaknesses, they have assets to the team that are going to make them hard to beat. Most importantly, stopping Lebron James will be close to impossible, as well if Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh have solid games. Their firepower can be too much for teams to handle.
Additionally, they have been to the finals the last three years. Because of this, they have more experience than either Indiana or Washington especially. They have the resiliency to fend off teams in close playoff basketball. This is what ultimately will lead them back to the NBA Finals. The only thing that may prevent that is if the Indiana Pacers become consistent like they were in games 2-4 of the semi-finals and the first half of the season.
San Antonio Spurs
The playoffs are all about matchups. Prior to the postseason, it could have been argued that the Spurs would roll over the Western Conference. Unfortunately for them, they met their arch-nemesis, the Dallas Mavericks, in the first round in a series that pushed them to a limit of seven games.
While it appeared initially the Spurs were on the brink of a downward spiral, they managed to obliterate the Portland Trailblazers in a non-competitive second round series. It could be argued in fact that the tough series of the Mavericks strengthened the vigor of the Spurs, who at this point look unbeatable.
There are not many weaknesses to the Spurs. The only team who may rival them in terms of a deep roster are their potential conference finals matchup, the Los Angeles Clippers. San Antonio has their big three of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker, which is both an advantage and curse. They are the most experienced squad in the league; however, due to their age, there is a risk of injury. This was never more evident in Wednesday’s game where Tony Parker was taken out of the game after 10 minutes of play.
As stated, they do have one of the deepest rosters; however, that does not mean that if they lose either or all of the big three, their task will be easy. They need their most seasoned players and the leaders of the team, if they are to defeat the squads of the Clippers and Thunder. Without that core, they may be in trouble. As such, they better hope that Parker’s injury is a minor blip and their rest before the next round heals him up.
While their injuries are more likely at the age of their top three players, age also is a factor for them in terms of competing against younger teams. The Thunder have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook who are arguably two of the most athletic players in the entire league. Parker and Duncan simply cannot match with the speed and strength of their younger counterparts, much like their counterparts of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin on the Clippers.
Because of this, it will be a challenge for the Spurs to compete against the young guns of the league. However, while they may be slower than when they were younger, they have arguably the most experience than anyone else in the NBA.
The Spurs are a great rebounding, defensive and now offensive team. There simply is not a major weakness to their squad beyond athleticism that their conference finals’ opponent can expose. On top of that, they have the best coach in the league hands down. No one can manage minutes, implement strategies and make pressing decisions at the end of the game like Gregg Popovich. Because of this, it will be quite difficult, arguably impossible, to outsmart the San Antonio. Since their basketball IQ is so high, the Spurs seem destined to meet the Heat in the NBA Finals — unless their star players get injured.
This leads us to an NBA Finals that will pit the two most resilient teams against each other. The Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs, unless a major curveball goes in either direction, seem destined to fight each other one last time. For the Miami Heat, they are chasing a three-peat, and for the San Antonio Spurs, they are chasing their fifth NBA championship.
Commentary by Simon Mounsey