Jun 5 2013 10:20AM

Finals Preview: Spurs vs. Heat

Finally. We have our 2013 NBA Finals set. Heat versus Spurs. The Big 3, who have played in the last three NBA Finals, versus The O.G. Big 3, who have won three NBA championships together. The Empire versus The Dynasty. Young versus Old. Well, that last one is not exactly true, with Prez Pat Riley and Coach Erik Spoelstra surrounding LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh with the oldest set of supporting actors since "Silver Linings Playbook." Did you know the Heat have the second-oldest squad in basketball (average age: 30.3), topped only by the elder Lakers, while the spry Spurs now rank seventh (28.6)? Main reason is because the Heat have surrounded its in-their-prime Big 3 with championship veterans like Ray Allen, Udonis Haslem and Shane Battier. Meanwhile, the Spurs have made it to this championship round because Coach Gregg Popovich and GM R.C. Buford surround Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker with a Young 3 of Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter and Danny Green that is now experienced enough to topple elite competition, not to mention play alongside the most-utilized bench in NBA history. Forget the glitz-and-glamour of the Heat and the down-to-Earth nature of the Spurs, and you actually will see two teams who are strikingly similar nowadays. In the regular season, the Spurs ranked third and seventh in defensive and offensive efficiency, while the Heat ranked seventh and first, respectively. These are two well-balanced teams who both turned it up in the playoffs, with the Spurs ranking first and second in D and O, while the Heat are fourth and first. Nobody is playing better in the 2013 NBA Playoffs than four-time MVP LeBron. And nobody played better in the West during the postseason than Parker, although Duncan was close, while Leonard's and Ginobili's defensive and sixth-man contributions are best exemplified in their West-leading playoff plus-minus numbers.

HEAT (12-4)

C Chris Bosh +3.22 RSPM; Playoffs: 16 g, 31.9 mpg, 16.0 PER, +83

PF Udonis Haslem -1.19 RSPM; Playoffs: 16 g, 18.4 mpg, 16.5 PER, +39

SF LeBron James +9.25 RSPM; Playoffs: 16 g, 41.2 mpg, 28.8 PER, +133

SG Dwyane Wade +4.65 RSPM; Playoffs: 15 g, 35.1 mpg, 17.4 PER, +90

PG Mario Chalmers +1.74 RSPM; Playoffs: 16 g, 26.8 mpg, 13.5 PER, +74

SG Ray Allen -0.81 RSPM; Playoffs: 16 g, 23.8 mpg, 14.8 PER, +130

PG Norris Cole -5.55 RSPM; Playoffs: 16 g, 21.0 mpg, 14.5 PER, +86

SF Shane Battier -0.10 RSPM; Playoffs: 15 g, 20.3 mpg, 3.9 PER, +62

C Chris Andersen +3.52 RSPM; Playoffs: 15 g, 15.5 mpg, 28.2 PER, +91

SF Mike Miller -1.39 RSPM; Playoffs: 10 g, 8.0 mpg, 11.0 PER, +6

C Joel Anthony -1.17 RSPM; Playoffs: 10 g, 5.6 mpg, 3.6 PER, -6

PF Rashard Lewis -3.95RSPM; Playoffs: 8 g, 4.4 mpg, 8.1 PER, -14

SF James Jones -5.84 RSPM; Playoffs: 6 g, 3.5 mpg, 3.0 PER, -9

PF Juwan Howard -11.21 RSPM

PF Jarvis Varnado -11.84 RSPM



SPURS (12-2)

C Tim Duncan +8.07 RSPM; Playoffs: 14 g, 34.4 mpg, 20.3 PER, +68

PF Tiago Splitter +3.90 RSPM; Playoffs: 12 g, 23.3 mpg, 14.8 PER, +21

SF Kawhi Leonard +3.43 RSPM; Playoffs: 14 g, 37.1 mpg, 17.9 PER, +118

SG Danny Green +1.31 RSPM; Playoffs: 14 g, 30.1 mpg, 14.9 PER, +23

PG Tony Parker +3.51 RSPM; Playoffs: 14 g, 37.0 mpg, 24.1 PER, +83

SG Manu Ginobili +3.70 RSPM; Playoffs: 14 g, 25.8 mpg, 19.1 PER, +128

C Boris Diaw -0.84 RSPM; Playoffs: 10 g, 17.8 mpg, 9.1 PER, +45

PF Matt Bonner -1.89 RSPM; Playoffs: 14 g, 16.5 mpg, 12.7 PER, +57

SG Gary Neal -3.84 RSPM; Playoffs: 14 g, 15.7 mpg, 8.5 PER, +56

PG Cory Joseph -2.26 RSPM; Playoffs: 14 g, 10.6 mpg, 13.8 PER, +35

PF DeJuan Blair -2.31 RSPM; Playoffs: 9 g, 6.6 mpg, 31.1 PER, +39

C Aron Baynes -5.35 RSPM; Playoffs: 4 g, 5.8 mpg, 10.4 PER, +14

SF Tracy McGrady Playoffs: 4 g, 4.3 mpg, 3.4 PER, +6

PG Nando de Colo -3.55 RSPM; Playoffs: 3 g, 3.0 mpg, 20.6 PER, +7

PG Patty Mills -3.08 RSPM; Playoffs: 7 g, 2.4 mpg, 20.2 PER, +10

5 KEY MATCHUPS


Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images Sport

1. Who's Got LeBron? You undoubtedly will see the answer to most of these questions change several times a series. After all, adjustments happen frequently during the Finals. But by and large, these matchups will ring true most of the time. As for the LeBron question, Leonard will most certainly grab the lion's share of minutes guarding King James, although Duncan has the biggest role in keeping LeBron out of the paint. The Spurs will play him just as Indiana did. In fact, the Spurs are as close to a defensive replica of the Pacers' D that you will find. Don't forget, Duncan himself has been known to text Roy Hibbert advice during the playoffs on how to defend East opponents (Hibbert travels to San Antonio during summers to work out with Duncan). As for Leonard, the 21-year-old strong 6-7 forward has been groomed for this role--the Paul George stopper role in this scenario, if you will--and we'll see how he handles the Michael-&-Magic sides of LeBron's versatile attacks. The most comparable foe that Leonard has battled in 2012-13 would be MVP runner-up Kevin Durant. In three head-to-head games with Durant's Thunder, the Leonard-D'd-up Spurs held OKC to a 102.9 points per 100 possessions offensive rating, which would rank 18th in the NBA this season.


Victor Baldizon/NBAE/Getty Images

2. Who's Guarding Parker? I am afraid Chalmers and Cole will be the only players the Heat will be able to match up with Parker, and both those guys will struggle, especially since there is no big man behind them to keep Picasso Parker out the paint. Miami's best bets will be to swarm Cory Joseph and the other Spurs guards when they handle the ball. After all, the Heat have a tenacious D when the entire team is engaged, and that is where they get most of their off-the-ball blocks and passing-lane steals. That, in turn, is what generates much of their offense in transition, as we saw in the first half of the Eastern Conference Finals Game 7. But Parker--and Ginobili, for that matter--are too experienced to make numerous mistakes off double teams, and they are more likely to burn Miami with assisted three-pointers. That said, there will come a point and time when LeBron takes the Parker challenge on. I don't see him faring well in that scenario, but it will happen. I doubt you will see D-Wade take that assignment. The Eastern Conference Finals showed us that when Wade takes on a full-time stopper role--as he did against Paul George in the first six games--the rest of his game suffers.


D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images; Stephen Dunn/Getty Images Sport

3. Will Spurs Use Pick-&-Roll Duncan Or Post-Up Duncan? First off, Duncan will still play the left tackle in the Spurs' read-spread playbook, running the multiple-screen motion offense as both he and Splitter are known to do. That said, look for both Duncan and Splitter to do more scoring in the paint in these Finals. Synergy stats show that the Spurs bigs not only run the best screen-and-roll offense in basketball on a points-per-possession level the past two seasons, but they also have the best post-up efficiency in the NBA today. Pop has not needed to go to that aspect of the game much, and the stats show exactly that, with San Antonio only going to post-ups 8 percent of the time this season. You also didn't see Duncan post up much against the three defensive aces he faced in the 2013 NBA Playoffs in Marc Gasol, Andrew Bogut and Dwight Howard. But now he is matched up against a team lacking defensive big men. I would not be surprised to see the four-time champ approach his NBA Finals averages of 23 points and 14 rebounds if Miami doesn't make major adjustments, although the 42 minutes per game average may be a bit much to match again. We've seen Miami struggle against bigs before. Neither Bosh, nor Haslem, nor Birdman have an advantage guarding Splitter, much less Duncan. That is why it is likely we'll see Anthony play more minutes in this series than he has played in the entire 2013 NBA Playoffs (56 minutes).


Layne Murdoch; Issac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty Images

4. Who Wins Battle Of Bench--LeBron's Vets Or Manu's Young'uns? Miami's biggest advantage over Indiana in the Eastern Conference Finals was its bench dominance, as LeBron led a second-string demolition crew to mow down Pacers' leads on the regular. By pairing LeBron with Cole, Allen, Battier and Andersen, Coach Spo got his team back in many games that his Big 3 let get away. Now against San Antonio, it is not clear who has the bench advantage. LeBron averaged 43 minutes in the last series, so he clearly has the stamina to call the shots for both Miami's first- and second-string squads. Ginobili has been playing the same sixth-man role for Pop for 11 years now, and that role is especially important now since it buys Parker a break from running the Spurs multiple-screen motion offense non-stop whenever he is in the game. Joseph has done a capable job of buying Parker 6-10 minutes of rest per night, but he is only able to do so because of Ginobili's supreme playmaking skills in these 2013 NBA Playoffs, running up a bang-for-buck-best +128 plus-minus score in 361 minutes that no one else can match. On a per-possession basis, only Birdman has had more impact in these playoffs. So you see my point? It is going to be tough to see who wins the key battle of the second-stringers, especially because the Heat have had such success going with LeBron and the vets, while San Antonio is known for subbing subs out every minute or two, giving teams changing complex looks that leave them baffled at the quarter turns. That is why you don't see any Spurs reserves quintets logging major minutes together.


Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

5. What Will Spurs Do If Heat Go Fast Five On 'Em? This may be a moot point because Spoelstra has shown no inclination to use the Fast Five lineup that helped Miami win the 2012 NBA Championship. After logging 300 minutes in the regular season together, the squadron of Chalmers, Wade, Battier, James and Bosh has only played 23 minutes together in the playoffs, and only 3 minutes together in the most recent series. Granted, the unit has struggled in the postseason in limited time (-34.1 net rating), but that shouldn't wipe out all the good it had done earlier (+19.6 net rating). Part of the reason for not going fast may be because Wade and Bosh's wheels can no longer handle it. Wade's knees have messed with his shot creation and surely hamper him in constant transition, while Bosh's run also may be bothered to a lesser degree. However, should Miami go small and try to force a change in the Spurs lineup, one of two things will happen: 1. Pop will stick with his two bigs--much like Indiana did--and force the Heat to play the Spurs' game; 2. if Pop is feeling he wants to test Wade and Bosh's health, he may move Leonard to the 4 and get in a track meet with the Heat, going shot-for-shot with his marksmen.

3 KEY HEAT LINEUPS

1. Chalmers, Wade, James, Haslem, Bosh

Regular Season: 688 minutes, +11.9 net rating; Postseason: 234 minutes, +12.2 net rating

2. Chalmers, Wade, Battier, James, Bosh

Regular Season: 300 minutes, +19.6 net rating; Postseason: 23 minutes, -34.1 net rating

3. Cole, Allen, Battier, James, Andersen

Regular Season: 118 minutes, +21.9 net rating; Postseason: 86 minutes, +19.1 net rating


Issac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty Images
3 KEY SPURS LINEUPS

1. Parker, Green, Leonard, Splitter, Duncan

Regular Season: 364 minutes, +18.1 net rating; Postseason: 134 minutes, +3.2 net rating

2. Parker, Ginobili, Leonard, Splitter, Duncan

Regular Season: 55 minutes, +2.0 net rating; Postseason: 13 minutes, +52.8 net rating

3. Joseph, Ginobili, Leonard, Diaw, Duncan

Regular Season: 12 minutes, -32.8 net rating; Postseason: 21 minutes, +35.6 net rating


Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images

2013 FINALS PREDICTION

I am pretty happy with the prognostications thus far. HOOP had Miami and San Antonio winning the most games in the regular season and has picked them both throughout these 2013 NBA Playoffs. I could have done better with the other picks during the regular season, but oh well. HOOP also picked 11 of the 14 playoff series right, good enough to rank fourth in the TrueHoop Stat Geek Smackdown, if we had been invited. So without further ado, the final--and Finals--prediction: SPURS IN 6

SOURCES
Regularized Statistical Plus Minus stats come from David Williams' You Have No Game website; Games, Minutes Per Game, Player Efficiency Rating and Plus-Minus numbers in the Playoffs come from Basketball-Reference; Lineups advanced statistics come from the NBA's Stats site.