LeBron James is easily the best player in this series, and it really isn't close. He finished with a triple-double in Game 1 (18 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists) and you can still argue that Kawhi Leonard played excellent defense. James is the offensive impetus that makes the Miami Heat's top-ranked offense churn — he can facilitate from the pick-and-roll, in the post and attack the basket from any angle on the floor. He's a physical force unlike any other in the NBA.
James is going to have the ball a ton, and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra will rely on him heavily. He's going to guard Tony Parker late in high-leverage scenarios, bang with Spurs bigs and be tasked with controlling the glass. James will have to do it all.
But, even James has admitted to some fatigue. Battling the bruising David West in the Eastern Conference finals took a toll on his body. Only Kevin Durant (8703) and Monta Ellis (8423) have played more regular season minutes than James since 2010-11 and no one has came close to his 2,606 playoff minutes in that span. Don't forget international competition, too.
So James will need some help. Enter Dwyane Wade.
Wade is averaging 35.2 minutes per game this postseason, and he hasn't been particularly good. He's scoring at a career low rate (14.6) and is shooting just 44.8 percent, his third-lowest mark in the playoffs. Wade has been so terrible this postseason that both Chris Andersen and Ray Allen are scoring more points per 36 minutes. He'll need to be much better — he was decent through the first three quarters of Game 1 before wilting in the fourth quarter– if the Heat are going to win this series. Here's what the Spurs should do on offense and defense to neutralize Wade.
What the San Antonio Spurs must do on offense:
Wade will occasionally guard Tony Parker, but that will only be in the rare instances when Parker is able to manipulate a tasty mismatch in transition. Otherwise, he'll be predominately guarding Danny Green. This is a favorable matchup for Wade since he shouldn't have to expend too much energy defending Green. Green is mostly stationary in the Spurs offense — he's an elite shooter from the corner (43.2 percent) and above the arc (43.2 percent) — but there a few wrinkles that Gregg Popovich uses to free Green from his defender and get him into his high-efficiency spots in the floor.
The "Hammer" play is one of these wrinkles — right when the defense is focused on the primary action, a sideline pick-and-roll typically for Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili, the weak-side big man (Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw) sets a timely back screen. Green has gotten many wide-open looks from these sets. Popovich also whipped out another set that he used in the double-overtime thriller against Golden State, where he had Green set a down screen for Kawhi Leonard and then run off two picks to an open spot on the floor (play starts at 1:50 of this video).
It's a difficult play to defend and the Warriors yielded a good look from behind the arc as a result. Green isn't going to be veering across the court just to tire out Wade but there will be plenty of opportunities to get him open and the Spurs will work to generate this good looks. Green shot nine 3-pointers in Game 1, which isn't such a bad thing given his proficiency from the perimeter.
What the Spurs must do on defense:
Force Wade to shoot. In these playoffs, Wade has made 62.7 percent of his shots inside of five feet but his percentages drops precipitously outside this range. He's made just 32.5 percent (39 of 120) of his shot attempts outside of five feet, per NBA.com
. Wade can't shoot 3's and his burst to the rim is deteriorating — he's averaging just four free throw attempts per 36 minutes this postseason — so he often forces inefficient mid-range shots just to incorporate himself into the offense. James said during media day that it is imperative to get Wade going and if that means a high dosage of perimeter shots, the Spurs will live with it. Green is the optimal Wade defender because he can deter driving angles to the bucket, already few and far between, which are the only shots Wade should be subsisting on at this point.