Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
The Heat looked pretty unbeatable in Game 7 against Indy. But last week, many of you favored the Spurs in The Finals. How do you feel now?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Somewhat different. Miami came out in Game 7 vs. Indiana with an aggressiveness driven by fear and urgency, the sense that its only real goal for this whole season was about to slip away. That still can happen if the Spurs beat them four times in the next seven games. After the Pacers’ shot across Miami’s bow, all hands and tactics are on deck now, from LeBron James‘ willingness to play in “Cleveland” mode to coach Erik Spoelstra‘s commitment not to any particular rotation or style but only to the prize. I think we’ll see the Heat in full now.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Unbeatable, yes, as long as the opponent turns the ball over 21 times, including 15 times in the first half. Unbeatable, yes, as long as the opponent’s rising star gets stage fright and fouls out with two field goals in 35 minutes. Back on Dec. 29, the Bucks handled the Heat 104-85. Were we talking about the Bucks being unbeatable the next morning? Beatable, yes.
Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: All I know is when Miami plays like that type of defensive ferocity, they are practically unbeatable. Having said that, we just haven’t seen that type of intensity much this postseason. And with Dwyane Wade still ailing, Chris Bosh struggling and the role players seemingly out of sorts, I’m sticking with my earlier prediction: Spurs in 6.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Still feel the same. While picking the Heat to win – in 7 – the Pacers made them look more beatable than I originally imagined. I didn’t think anyone in the East could give Miami a hard push. I said before the Spurs would have a very good chance. That has not changed.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: From Miami’s perspective, I’m definitely encouraged by how active they were defensively on Monday. But I still believe that the Spurs’ offense is the perfect counter to the Heat’s attack-and-rotate D. Tony Parker is the best pick-and-roll ball handler in the league, who is obviously tougher to contain than George Hill or D.J. Augustin. And when the Heat hedge or double on the pick-and-roll, the Spurs have the shooters to make them pay on the weak side. On the other end of the floor, I just haven’t seen enough consistency from LeBron James’ supporting cast to believe that the Heat can pick apart the Spurs’ improved defense.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I don’t feel any differently now than I did last week. This is a toss up series to me, with the Heat holding the slightest of edges because they have home court advantage. And after Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals it should be clear just how important that can be in any playoff series. A dominant team in one series dives into another one, with very different matchups, and can get handled. So there is no edge based on the previous series, for either one of these league heavyweights. and since we haven’t really had a chance to see these guys match up at full strength (as my main man Jeff Caplan points out here) there is no real context between these two teams to work with for a prediction in The Finals. I’m rooting for a seven-game epic series, an instant classic worthy of the all-time greats.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: My initial reaction is that I’ll take the Heat. Yes the Spurs are veterans and they can beat you a lot of different ways, but the Heat aren’t new to this. There were many times in the Eastern Conference finals when the Heat seemed like they were coasting — they have to dictate tempo and defensive pressure to knock off San Antonio. And obviously the real key for Miami is what they get from Wade and Bosh — can they put together four games over the next two weeks to where people aren’t making Cleveland comparisons for LeBron again?
Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: Sports, as they say, have a short memory. Everybody seems to have already forgotten that the series went to seven games and only remembers the Game 7 blow-out. But, that is not how things work. Winning by 20 or with a last-minute buzzer-beater is irrelevant in playoff basketball. We count the ‘W’s, not the point margin, so no, for me, nothing has changed: the Heat are still the reigning champions, leaving the underdog label to the Spurs. Don’t forget San Antonio has to win one on the road if they want to win another ring. The Spurs still have a pretty good chance if they manage to hit the weak spots of Miami (boards, low-post defense) and set a tone with their pick-n-roll game.
Philipp Dornhegge, NBA Deutschland: I feel a little differently. But not necessarily because of their offense. That seemed okay, but they looked a little better because of how totally overwhelmed the Pacers looked. Same for their defense. What impressed me was the fire and will to win that the Heat showed. I have rarely seen that these playoffs, and not at all during the Pacers series. When they play like that, they’re tough to beat. I’m still picking the Spurs, because they should be completely healthy, will not be overwhelmed by the big stage and have the best pick-and-roll in the game. But it’s going to be a lot closer now.
Karan Madhok, NBA India: Miami’s blowout was impressive, sure, especially since they reawakened their championship-level defense and saw Dwyane Wade show some signs of life alongside the dominant-as-ever LeBron. If the Big Three can play at a high level and the entire team can get back to their defensive comfort zone, the Heat will certainly edge closer to matching the Spurs neck-to-neck. But ‘edging closer’ might not be enough. The Pacers – even in defeat – have exposed Miami’s weaknesses on the inside, along with the inconsistency of their surrounding cast. The Spurs will figure out a way to further exploit these weaknesses and get the edge.