After 10 days of rest, the San Antonio Spurs are ready to start the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat tonight in Miami. With the series set to start, I turned to Heat blogger Surya Fernandez of Hot Hot Hoops to help me preview this matchup and give us a little more information on the Heat.
1. Who do you think has the advantage going into Game 1 on Thursday? The team that has had 10 days of rest or the one that just finished Game 7?
I would say it's the team with the shorter rest. The Heat will happily take the two full days off and get right back to competitive basketball without missing a beat but 10 days is a huge amount of time to be off right before the Finals. The Heat certainly didn't think a lot of time off was an advantage after losing to the Bulls in Game 1 of the second round after sweeping the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round. It would be one thing if the Spurs had to play against any another NBA team but they'll be facing a Heat team that's eager to defend home court and repeat as champs.
Having said that, just how much effect that will have on Game 1 is impossible to predict. If the Heat create fastbreak opportunities and the Spurs are not quick enough to react, or if the Spurs shoot poorly in the first half, then everyone will simply blame it on the rust though it could have simply occurred during the course of a normal game. Even though Tony Parker confirmed today at practice that 10 days was too much rest, I'm pretty sure that the Spurs will figure it out and get back to playing their style of basketball quickly.
2. How big will home court advantage be in the Finals? Could it be a major contributor in the result of the series?
It helps the Heat judging by how inconsistent they were in the Eastern Conference Finals, especially on the road, and they get to stay home after Game 7 and prepare for the Finals in their arena. The pressure will be on them to win the first two games but then that pressure switches over to the Spurs who must try to win three straight against the Heat and losing three games in a row doesn't exactly happen to LeBron and his teammates anymore. However, the Heat last year earned their split on the road and were able to close out the OKC Thunder with those three straight home games.
3. LeBron got some help tonight, but he's had sketchy performances from the other members of the big three. Will all of the big three for the Heat have to be on in order to beat the Spurs?
For the most part yes, but the Heat do have the most depth this year than the previous two years of the Big 3 era so you might see a hot-shooting player like Mike Miller go off like he did in last year's Finals and give LeBron that crucial support he needs. Other players that can meaningfully contribute are Ray Allen, Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole and Shane Battier. Birdman literally can't miss. If any combination of them can give the Heat a double-digit point game then chances are the Heat will be able to win. Even a player like Udonis Haslem had a pair of great games against the Pacers and that was the difference in those games. Well, that and having the 2013 MVP is pretty helpful too.
4. What is the key matchup to you?
Parker vs Chalmers. I would say Parker is the Spurs "MVP" so far in their postseason and I'm intrigued as to how Mario will defend him and how the Heat team defense will help out with that. As good as the Heat's defense is, it can be broken down quickly with a Parker penetration and he will get his fair share of easy baskets as well as attraction the attention of defenders which will open up players like Leonard to do their thing. As a bonus, it may be even more fascinating to see Norris go up against Tony.
5. Would it be a mistake to go with the common knowledge that since Indiana took the Heat to a Game 7 and won three games, the Spurs may have the upper hand in this series as a better team than the Pacers?
The Pacers represent a great matchup against the Heat because their size is the Heat's glaring weakness. But the Heat won all those games in a row during the regular season because they can win in a variety of ways – whether it be hot shooting or in a grind-it-out defensive game. It remains to be seen what answers the Spurs will have to contain the myriad of strengths the Heat have.
6. Prediction time. Does Tim Duncan win number five and deny James of another ring or does James get redemption for the 2007 Finals? How many games?
Heat in 6. But there are legitimate concerns that Wade and Bosh could continue to struggle. If that's the case this series could go to 7 games and then who knows what could happen, but even then it's hard to imagine LeBron not being able to will his team to a victory in a winner-takes-all home game.