Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe 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.
> We know the Big Three on each side; who else do you see that could turn this series for his team?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: For San Antonio, it can be fascinating seeing the impact Boris Diaw can have, particularly against LeBron James. The game’s greatest player is going from the East finals, where he had to worry about height (Roy Hibbert), to one where now he must be mindful of width (Diaw). Oh, and did I forget Kawhi Leonard? He might be most instrumental in making James work hard defensively. For Miami, I’m assuming Gregg Popovich has some Russian mobsters snatch Ray Allen in the middle of the series, never to be seen again. So I’ll go with Norris Cole, a serious pest and series-changer for the Heat with his tenacious D on Lance Stephenson. If Cole can pester Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili similarly, he can negate a lot of what that guy does for the Spurs attack.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Kawhi Leonard is potentially explosive on either side of the ball. He’ll have the No. 1 task of guarding LeBron James and keeping him out of the middle and can be a game-wrecker for opponents with his long arms, large hands and disruptive ability. On offense, Leonard is the constantly-moving-off-the-ball that can stick the 3 or go strong to the basket without ever having a play called for him.
Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Obviously, for the Spurs, Kawhi Leonard is a significant two-way player. He can pop you for 20 points on any given night, but it’s his defense on LeBron James that should be fascinating to watch. He’s a year older now, a Finals under his belt and look for him to be a dogged, dogged defender. Three-point specialist Danny Green can turn a game, which in turn can turn a series. His deal though is he is astoundingly more accurate at home (59.2 percent from deep in the playoffs) than on the road (31.3 percent), and the Heat got a serious taste of that last year. The guy that intrigues me most for the Heat is Rashard Lewis, who was dusted off in the Brooklyn series and finally started drilling 3s as a fill-in starter late in the Pacers series. The Heat would love it he could assume sort of the Mike Miller bench role, just seemingly always in the right place at the right time to pop a 3 or chase down a loose ball.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Tiago Splitter for the Spurs. The defense, a body inside to hit Miami where the Heat are vulnerable. And Shane Battier for the Heat. The man who can do a little bit of everything will want to go out with a good showing.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Kawhi Leonard may be the Spurs most important player in the series. The more he can defend LeBron James one-on-one without help, the better his team will be able to challenge the Heat’s shots on the perimeter. Offensively, Leonard is a better player than he was a year ago. So he can take some of the playmaking burden off of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili and make James work on that end of the floor. The Heat, meanwhile, will need some production and defense from that other forward spot. The Spurs would love to be able to ignore a Heat player or two to focus on James, but if Rashard Lewis and/or Shane Battier can make some threes while holding their own defensively, Miami will be in great shape.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Kawhi Leonard ranks as the most important non-Big 3 player on either team. If he can find a way to push LeBron James in ways that few guys have, on both ends of the floor, this series takes on an entirely different vibe. He’s been so much more aggressive during these playoffs offensively, attacking as much as Pop will allow, and that could force LeBron into the same situation the Pacers tried put him in against Paul George, only this time he wouldn’t be dealing with a guy 40 pounds lighter on the defensive end. Leonard could cause problems George could not and could swing this series in San Antonio’s favor if he can do it consistently.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: To me there’s more mystery on Miami’s sideline than there is with the Spurs. The Heat have no fear in dipping deep into their bench and finding a guy who may not have played in weeks, and then deploying him in big situations. So I wonder who else will step up for Miami? James Jones? Ray Allen? Shane Battier? Rashard Lewis? Maybe even Greg Oden or Mike Beasley? Somebody we’re not expecting to play big is going to have to be big for the Heat if they’re going to make this a three-peat.
Akshay Manwani, NBA India: Boris Diaw for the Spurs is going to be a big factor, just like he was against the Thunder. His numbers in 18 games in the 2014 postseason are already a lot better than the numbers he posted in the 2013 postseason. He is also playing more minutes this time around. Diaw allows the Spurs to play small ball against the Heat and provides better floor spacing to San Antonio compared to Tiago Splitter with Tim Duncan around. For Miami, Rashard Lewis is going to be key. If he plays like he did in those few games against the Pacers, then Miami has a chance. Remember, the Heat don’t have Mike Miller this season and Udonis Haslem is not what he was two or three seasons ago. So a strong contribution from Lewis will count for a lot.
Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: Two names: Marco Belinelli and Ray Allen. Same reason: 3 pointers. I’m not picking Marco because he’s the first Italian ever to play in the NBA Finals and I’m the editor of NBA Italy, but because I know he wants some revenge after not playing at his best during the conference Finals. He can give so much off the bench: 3s, which the Spurs need, assists, some defense and some playmaking. He’s much more than what he did vs. Oklahoma City. Ray Allen was the hero in Spurs vs. Heat I because of that unbelievable 3-pointer that forced the OT in Game 6. The Heat need some reliable shooter beside the Big Three (they produce 61 of the 99 Heat’s points per game) and Ray is exactly that: an experienced, almost lethal sharpshooter chasing another ring.
Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA Deutschland: On the Spurs side? Kawhi Leonard! He’s just 22 years old, but he already has so much playoff experience. He improved this year again and got All-Defensive-Team honors. Leonard is the key. He can guard LeBron extremely well and showed this last year and with his versatility on the offensive end he’s a weapon that the heat has to take care off. On Miami, it is still Ray Allen. He did last year and he can do it again and again and again. His work ethic is still a role model for everyone in the league.