Nets boss Billy King is going in a radical direction by even pursuing Kidd, whose brilliant playing career included a championship in Dallas in 2011 and back-to-back trips to The Finals with the Nets a decade ago. Kidd’s lack of coaching experience is offset by 19 years of playing in the league, many of those as one of the top point guards in the game.
How Kidd fills his staff out will also be of significant intrigue. A source confirmed to NBA.com this afternoon that former Nets and Detroit Pistons coach Lawrence Frank is expected to be a part of Kidd’s staff, potentially as his lead assistant. Frank coached Kidd from 2003-04 to the trade deadline of the 2007-08 season, when Kidd was dealt to Dallas.
The Nets were considering a long list of candidates for their vacancy, including Pacers assistant Brian Shaw and recently fired Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins.Both men remain candidates for the open job with the Los Angeles Clippers. Kidd rising to the top of the Nets’ list in such short order is a development few saw coming, especially on the heels of his retirement announcement last week.
Perhaps the most interesting wrinkle of this entire affair, though, is what impact Kidd’s hiring will have on the current face of the franchise: veteran point guard Deron Williams. An All-Star and Olympic gold medalist, Williams and Kidd already have a relationship from their playing days. How they work together will likely determine the immediate on-court fortunes of the franchise.
One blowout each way, and a shot for the ages: What’s surprised you?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Three games in, I’m most surprised that the Spurs’ second tier of players have performed so well. This is their first time in these bright lights, yet you couldn’t tell it from Kawhi Leonard‘s, Danny Green‘s or Gary Neal‘s performances. Their big-stage-experience-to-stellar play ratio is off the charts right now, best in the series by far.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The strong, solid, all-around play of Kawhi Leonard. We have seen him grow and mature all season and through earlier rounds of the playoffs. But he’s stepped onto the biggest stage and been the most consistent player in the series so far at both ends of the floor. He’s shown no reluctance to take big shots, has been a monster on the boards and, of course, is playing the lion’s share of the defense against LeBron James. This is big stuff.
Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I picked Spurs to win in six so them being up 2-1 is right where I had it pegged. Now, I didn’t necessarily see two blowouts, but honestly, nothing really surprises me anymore. We always wanted to read so much into each game and how it will affect the next and which team has momentum. The truth is there is no carryover. Each game is its own entity. If there is a surprise it is that two teams with three “superstars” (yes, two of the Spurs’ three are long in the tooth) have been buoyed by the play of the role guys. And, again, maybe that shouldn’t be surprising. We see it all the time when we focus so intently on certain players, someone else jumps up and makes plays.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’m not surprised that the Spurs are up 2-1, but I am surprised that we’ve had two blowouts, because both of these teams are too good to get their butts kicked like that. Obviously, the hot shooting from Mike Miller, Danny Green and Gary Neal is pretty amazing, but it’s also big that the Spurs – who ranked 29th in offensive rebounding percentage in the regular season – have been able to grab 40 offensive boards in three games.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I saw the Heat’s Game 2 rout coming. I did not see the Spurs’ Game 3 answer coming. No one outside of Dancin’ Danny Green and maybe Gary Neal saw it coming. The biggest surprise for me is the way the Spurs’ youngsters are leading the way. I didn’t think there was any way Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker could play the way they have and the Spurs would lead this series after three games. The way the Spurs’ Big 3 has stepped aside for the Lil’ 3 has been extremely impressive. It takes a true team attitude from top to bottom for something like this to happen on this stage. They’ve been incredible on both ends of the floor and when the shots start falling the way they did in Game 3 … you can’t do anything but sit back and enjoy the show.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Coming into this series, I had no idea what to expect. Both teams seemed pretty evenly matched, from on the court to along the sidelines, and it was hard to see any obvious advantage for either team. I suppose the most surprising performance has been from Manu Ginobili, who posted 13 points in Game 1 but then went for 5 in Game 2 and 7 in Game 3. The Heat don’t really have strong perimeter defenders to throw at him, but he’s still struggled to find his way offensively.
Philipp Dornhegge, NBA Deutschland:The fact that none of the two Big Threes has played up to his potential so far feels weird. We were expecting a showdown between LeBron and Parker with some Duncan moments in between, but what we’re getting is heavy doses of Green, Leonard and Neal vs. Mike Miller, Norris Cole and the occasional Mario Chalmers. Three games into The Finals, there’s no player or even a small group of players running away with the MVP award. Instead, it’s completely up in the air. Right now, you might have to give it to Leonard for playing LeBron to a tie. If that’s not surprising, I don’t know what is.
Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: This series has been a huge surprise from the beginning. LeBron playing some of his worst hoops ever is one of the biggest, especially after the triple-double in Game 1. The Spurs are really defending well on him and lead 2-1 even with their Big Three not playing particularly well (27 points combined in Game 2, 25 in Game 3, their worst combined performance ever). And raise your hand if you had Danny Green as top scorer (56 points, 19-23 from downtown) through three games games. Or Kawhi Leonard as early candidate for Finals MVP. And I’m pretty sure surprises are not over yet.
What worries you if you’re a Spurs’ fan? A Heat fan?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The first one’s simple: Tony Parker’s hamstring. It’s hard to envision them beating Miami two more times if they don’t have their MVP. It’s one thing for Neal and Cory Joseph to thrive out of the bullpen but if each moves up a mighty big notch on the depth chart, who’s to say they continue? On the Heat side, I’d be worried about San Antonio being plus-10 in free-throw attempts. No, not because of any conspiracy theory but because Miami is facing a team with players whose reputations are as big as their own. Any “star” calls likely will cut both ways. That’s an advantage for the Heat almost all the time, but it doesn’t appear it will be here.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: If I’m a San Antonio fan, the results of that MRI on Tony Parker’s hamstring. It will be very tough — if not impossible — sledding to close out the Heat if their best player can’t play at all, or even if he’s limited in his movement. If I’m a Heat fan, the fact that Tim Duncan, Tony Parkerand Manu Ginobili have not yet pulled their acts together in a single game, yet the Spurs have a 2-1 lead in the series.
Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Tony Parker’s hamstring makes me very nervous, although word from the San Antonio reporting crew suggests that his ailment during Game 3 was more of a cramping situation so that’s good news. Manu Ginobili’s continued struggling — both shooting the ball and turning it over — is a major concern. So far Danny Green and Gary Neal have bailed him out. For the Heat, my concern is simply LeBron. Is he going to assert his will and be the dominant force everyone wants him to be a la Jordan, or is the Spurs’ defense and the pressure to perform brilliantly each game as his supporting superstar cast wanes going to be too much?
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: If I’m a Spurs fan, I’m nervous about Tony Parker’s injury and LeBron James’ ability. Maybe James is fatigued (see his Finals shooting stats in my answer to the other question) or maybe he’s got a couple more huge games in him. And if I’m a Heat fan, I’m worried that nobody other than Mike Miller can shoot. When you’re not hitting shots, you become much easier to defend.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Simple. Tony Parker’s hamstring frightens me if I’m a San Antonio fan, because that means Manu Ginobili becomes the primary ballhandler far too often without TP in the mix. The Spurs are too close to title No. 5 for this to happen. The premise of finishing this series in five games has to be on your mind right now and that would be hard enough to do with a healthy Parker. It becomes nearly impossible with him wounded. If I’m a Miami fan, the ghosts of Dallas and The Finals from 2011 have to be on your mind. LeBron and Wade looking shaky like they did then doesn’t help you sleep any better at night. And the supporting cast, as valiant as they were in Miami, don’t operate independently from their stars the way the Spurs’ role players did in Game 3. So there is cause for concern right now for Heat fans.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: If I’m a San Antonio fan, I don’t think you can overlook that the Spurs shot 32 3-pointers in Game 3. That’s a Mike D’Antoni team, not a Gregg Popovich team. For a team that’s so reliant on Tim Duncan, they’ve gotten a combined 21 points in the last two games from him. Sure, they won one, but they have to figure out a way to get Timmy going. If I’m Miami, I worry not that the Spurs attempted 32 threes, but that they made 16 of them. Too often Green and Neal looked like they were in a 3-point shootout, firing up wide-open threes. The Heat have to improve their perimeter defense. Wonder if we’ll see a Battier appearance before long?
Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: San Antonio fans are all worried about Tony Parker’s health. If he doesn’t play, or even if he doesn’t play up to his standards, it will be a great setback for the Spurs. They don’t have the depth in the point guard spot or many different solutions in terms of half-court creation if Parker is not 100 percent ready. Patty Mills has seen limited action from the floor and Cory Joseph has the energy, but not the experience to fill the Frenchman’s shoes. The Heat fans, on the other hand, should be worried about the fact that their big-Three aren’t clicking right now. They’re just not clicking right now, and have yet to showcase their usual chemistry.
Karan Madhok, NBA India: If I’m a San Antonio fan, I’m worried most about Tony Parker’s hamstring. He will have an MRI on Wednesday, and if it’s serious, than the Spurs have reason to panic. Duncan and the support crew can do a good job against lesser teams; but to win two more Finals games against the almighty Heat, they need Parker at full strength to keep their offense chugging. If I’m a Heat fan, I’m of course worried about LeBron’s passive play, but more about the prospects of Wade and Bosh. The ‘Big Three’ project can only work if all three play their role. Right now, Miami is a ‘Big One’, and even that one is playing below his high standards. Wade and Bosh have to step up — on both ends of the floor — to save Miami in these Finals.
Aldo Avinante, NBA Philippines: It would seem simple, but for the Spurs you have to be nervous that LeBron will find his groove and make things happen by attacking the basket. It would be scary for the Spurs, but right now, the Heat fans don’t know if the LeBron they’re accustomed to will ever show up in this series.
How do you think LeBron is playing so far in these Finals?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Look, I’m weary of every game in every Finals -– wait, in every postseason series –- being a new referendum on LeBron James‘ greatness. The fixation people have with seeing him match Michael Jordan in taking over games as a scorer is misplaced, in my view. The strong Magic Johnson elements in James’ game means he makes other players better even when he’s not scoring — beyond Jordan’s knack for that, frankly. And I defy anyone to rattle off Johnson’s good games vs. off games in the Finals or anywhere else. If this Finals slips away before James can reassert himself in all his dominance, OK, some criticism is due. But it won’t redefine him or his legacy.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Tepidly. I didn’t have so much a problem in the first two games, because he was doing things to get his teammates involved and not trying to force the action. However, in Game 3 James appeared passive, settling for outside shots and rarely driving to the hoop or working in the low post. Has Kawhi Leonard gotten inside his head?
Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Not assertive enough. LeBron always seems so focused on making the “right” basketball play, getting the ball to a teammate if he believes it’s a better shot. It’s hard to fault a guy for doing that. I mean we rail on Kobe Bryant for just the opposite. With so much expected from star players and every play scrutinized, sometimes they just can’t win. But this series does remind some of 2011 when the Mavericks took LeBron way out of his comfort zone and he disappeared in the fourth quarters. I haven’t looked this up, but when’s the last time (probably the 2011 Finals) LeBron has scored 18, 17 and 15 points in three consecutive games? He didn’t even get to the free-throw line in Game 3. In the three games, he’s put up 13 shots from beyond the arc and has made three. Where’s post-up LeBron? He has to start getting in more comfortable positions where he can use his size to his advantage. Of course, the other side of that coin is that Spurs defender Kawhi Leonard, 6-foot-7 and 225 pounds, is holding his ground.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: He’s not playing poorly, but he’s shooting poorly. He’s 7-for-30 (23 percent) from outside the paint in the series. If he was shooting from outside the paint as well as he did in the regular season (42 percent), the Heat would probably be up 2-1. His lack of free throws (six in three games) is as much a product of the Spurs’ defense as it is of the way he’s playing. He could certainly force things a little more, but I think he’s making the right decisions with the ball for the most part. He’s just in the middle of a cold spell from the outside, and unfortunately, those seem to pop up at this time of year. He’s now 39-for-164 (24 percent) from outside the paint in 18 career Finals games.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: His legacy and all the other usual LeBron drama aside, he’s playing lousy. And that’s according to his own lofty standard. He looks nothing like the dominant player we watched all season. He’s allowed Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green to frustrate him defensively in ways that I honestly did not expect they would or could (even though I did mention before this series started that LeBron vs. Leonard was the most intriguing matchup in The Finals). The good thing for him is that Game 4 offers up yet another blank canvas for the four-time MVP. But I have to admit, he looks a bit spent to me right now. His performance is eerily reminiscent of the way he played against Dallas in 2011. Not a single free-throw attempt in Game 3? He doesn’t seem completely engaged in this series right now and that has to change for his and the Heat’s sake.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: He’s playing pretty well for any player not named LeBron James. Is he playing like a four-time MVP? Nope. What makes LeBron so perplexing right now is that we’ve seen him take games over on the offensive end, but so far he’s seemed mostly content to play “the right way,” finding the open player and making the right pass. But just because someone is open doesn’t always mean you need to find him with the skip pass. It is unbelievable to criticize a guy who has flirted with a triple-double in each of the NBA Finals games he’s played (and had it in one of the games). But with the Heat scuffling, that’s where we are.
Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: We’re definitely due one of LeBron’s banner performances in this series, and you know that’s coming. It usually comes just when people start questioning his performance, so that sounds like Game 4 will be such an occasion for James to step up. He has been OK, better than most, but surely we’ve come to expect much more out of the best player in the world. He needs to be more aggressive, get to the block more often and, hell, just for the sake of it, hit a couple of 3-pointers. That would frustrate the Spurs a lot.
Pawel Weszka, NBA Africa: LeBron’s struggles offensively. We know that he can take off at any time — that’s what we have been used to — but 16.7 points on 39 percent shooting per game in the Finals is his lowest in a series this postseason and is not going to cut it. Credit to Leonard and the Spurs, but James will have to be much more aggressive and influential if we are to keep mentioning his name next to Michael Jordan’s in one sentence as one of the greatest ever.
MIAMI –Mario Chalmers has no problem asserting himself on the big stage.
It’s been in his blood since he was a teenager, but it became evident when he was starring in college for Kansas’ national championship team and more so last season, during the Miami Heat’s championship run.
That’s why performances like the one he delivered Sunday night at AmericanAirlines should surprise no one. The Heat point guard relishes the opportunity to take and make the big shots, make the big plays and accept the challenge of dealing with a future Hall of Famer like Tony Parker the way he did in the Heat’s 103-84 rout of the San Antonio Spurs in Game 2 of The Finals.
Chalmers led the Heat with a team-high 19 points and helped limit Parker to 13 points and just five assists. His layup and free throw with 3:11 to play in the third quarter was the turning point as the Heat went on a 33-5 run to blow the game open. They went from trailing by a point to coasting by 27 points to tie the series at a 1-1 headed to San Antonio for Games 3, 4 and 5.
Chalmers walked over and told a struggling LeBron James that now was the time.
“I felt like we had them on the ropes at the time,” Chalmers said. “I told them let’s go for the kill.”
James might have had the highlight play on Tiago Splitter and Chris Bosh broke out of his funk and finished with a double double (12 points, 10 rebounds). But it was the Heat’s role players who saved the day. Guys like Ray Allen (13 points), Chris “Birdman” Andersen (nine points) and Mike Miller (nine points) showed up.
And in this series, James is convinced that Chalmers could very well be the Heat’s most critical performer, even with “Big 3s” on both sides.
“‘Rio has to play big for us in all facets,” James said. “I think that especially defensively, he’s guarding arguably the best point guard in the league. But I think he also has to make Tony work on the defensive end. He can’t be passive. He has to shoot his shots when he has them.”
Chalmers won’t bite publicly when asked about an individual matchup like the one he’s locked in with Parker right now, but his history against the other top players at the position suggests otherwise. He’s never backed down.
“It wasn’t nothing about Tony Parker,” Chalmers said. “It was the fact that we lost Game 1.We never want to lose, especially in The Finals. My mindset was just to do what I can for the team and go from there.”
It goes back that intestinal fortitude, the big game moxie that Chalmers has always exhibited.
“Mario’s got guts. Come on,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He had that all the way [back] in college. He’s got incredible confidence in his game. He’s shown that throughout the years, even when it’s sometimes — I wouldn’t say irrational. You have to have guts to play with our guys. If you don’t, you get swallowed up. The good thing about it is the other guys were fine with him making plays. That might be different the next game. As they make adjustments, everybody has to be alive. Him being aggressive helps us, no question.”
There’s no strategy involved. Just plain old guts.
You either have it in you to thrive under pressure or you don’t.
“We have a lot of those guys,” Spoelstra said. “You can’t teach that quality, the big game guts. They feel most alive in these situations when you typically feel the most pressure. Drives me crazy sometimes in December and January. But when you get to this time of year you like it.”
MIAMI –Gregg Popovich didn’t need nine days to figure out a game plan for the Miami Heat.
The San Antonio Spurs’ coach needed to watch just nine minutes of footage from the Eastern Conference finals matchup between the Heat and Indiana Pacers to find the weak link his team could exploit in The Finals.
Heat center Chris Bosh made the job easy for him, sticking out on offensive and defensive possessions where he wasn’t engaged in the action. He also played smaller than you’d expect from an eight-time All-Star and a $100 million man who has already anointed himself a future Hall of Famer.
Bosh played to the Spurs’ script in San Antonio’s Game 1 win, making just six of his 16 shot attempts, grabbing just four rebounds and coming up woefully short in the fourth quarter. He missed a wide open 3-pointer with 1:02 to play and the Heat trailing by four, a shot the Spurs will let him take anytime in this series.
“We had an opportunity to get into the paint,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He was open … probably for a reason at that point. But we had a couple of different options, triggers to get guys into the paint or to get into another situation. You know what, we’ll take that shot. He’s been making those. It’s an open shot in the fourth quarter. It didn’t come down to that.”
Sure it did, for Bosh, who needs a redemption game in the worst way in Game 2 Sunday.
It came down to that and all the other missed opportunities to assert himself, both in the conference finals (where he averaged 11.0 points and 4.3 rebounds against Pacers big men Roy Hibbert and David West) and in the 47 minutes leading up to that 3-point miss in Game 1 against the Spurs.
The Spurs left Bosh open the way you would expect them to leave Joel Anthony, the Heat’s former starting center, open in the same situation. It’s not so much a sign of disrespect of Bosh’s game but a nod to the obvious. Bosh is struggling mightily this postseason — the last big-time game he had was in Game 3 of the conference semifinals against Chicago when he finished with 20 points, 19 rebounds and two blocks in the Heat’s 104-94 win.
Bosh hasn’t scored more than 17 points in any game since then and didn’t even manage double digits in the last four games of the conference finals. He hasn’t had a double-digit rebound game since then, either — a stretch of 10 straight playoff games. That’s unacceptable for a player in Bosh’s tax bracket.
Even more perplexing is his reluctance to challenge the Spurs inside. Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter are classic big men but not the rugged forces inside that Hibbert and West are. And yet Bosh rarely ventured inside in Game 1. He missed all four of his 3-point attempts, taking as many as Ray Allen, and only four of his 16 shot attempts came inside the paint, where he was 1-for-4. The only real damage he did against the Spurs was with his mid-range game, going 5-for-8 on those shots.
It’s clear that Bosh has allowed his solid 3-point shooting effort in the playoffs (15-for-31 for 48 percent prior to Game 1) to convince him that he’s more effective from distance. That’s why he claims his confidence hasn’t wavered in recent weeks or after he came up empty in Game 1.
“It’s a part of sports,” he said of his late miss from deep. “You really don’t have to think about it. You just react. And that’s something I always lived by no matter what the situation is. I have confidence in myself and my teammates have confidence in me, every shot that I shoot I expect it to go in. Some do and some don’t.”
But sometimes those numbers can lie. They don’t always tell the true story. And the Spurs want, better yet, they need Bosh to believe in them. They need him to play into their hands by drifting on the perimeter and allowing them to lock down the lane defensively.
Bosh has been non-existent in the pick-and-roll, mostly because he hasn’t shown any inclination to roll to the basket. That allows the Spurs to collapse the lane the same way Indiana did against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and leaves the Heat with one less body around the basket to help on the boards.
Bosh has to find a way to leave much larger footprint on this series. Some way, some how, he has to be a factor.
“Anytime you get into a series, you have to recognize how a team is playing you. And sometimes it’s not your series,” Allen said. “I’ve been in several series where scoring-wise it wasn’t really in my direction – teams were taking me out. So it’s important you find a way to have an impact. Shane [Battier] came in the game last night, he altered shots, he got loose balls, he got us second-chance opportunities, and he had a great impact on the game. So each one of us has to find a way to have that impact on the floor.
‘With CB, there’s so many opportunities in the paint,” Allen continued. “We’re going to have to rely on him, we’re going to need him. And if he doesn’t score a bucket for us to to be efficient and effect the game, that goes for all of us. We have to be willing to make that sacrifice. I don’t think his confidence has wavered. I just always say I can make it easier on him out there when that ball comes. Especially early, trying to get him into the paint a little bit more. When the ball comes to him, just get that second-chance pick-and-roll where I can come off and get it back to him, so he can get something a little short or something rolling to the rim so he can get some easy buckets.”
Our predictions for The Finals are all over the place, as you might expect with a clash of heavyweights that looks like a pretty fair fight on paper.
In one corner we have LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and a Miami Heat team that is making its third straight appearance in The Finals, trying to defend its title with one of the brightest young coaching minds in the game in Erik Spoelstra.
In the other corner we have Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and a San Antonio Spurs crew that is making its fifth appearance in The Finals in 15 years, trying to add to their dynasty with a coaching master working the sidelines in Gregg Popovich.
NBA.com’s analytics guru John Schuhmann joins us live from Miami on the show this week, replacing a missing-in-action Rick Fox, and offering up his unique insight into the series.
Check it out on Episode 120 of the Hang Time Podcast …
MIAMI – In most respects, their methods couldn’t be more diametrically opposed.
Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs have built their dynasty on a bedrock of consistency … with core players (first with David Robinson and Tim Duncan and later with Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili) and an unchanging style and vision. It’s worked to the tune of five trips to The Finals in 15 seasons for Pop and his crew.
Pat Riley and the Miami Heat have built their program on a foundation that has shifted from Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal the Big 3 of Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, sacrificing a long-term vision for whatever formula works right here and right now. It’s worked to the tune of four trips to The Finals, including three straight (… and counting), in the last eight seasons.
The contrasting styles does not overshadow the shared respect between two of the league’s most successful coaches/executives and the mutual admiration between two franchises that represent the past, present and potentially the future of championship-level franchise-building in a league where every team dreams of being the model.
When the Heat put together their current core in the summer of 2009, Popovich was one of the first league executives to call Riley and pay his respects and explained why this afternoon during the Spurs’ media availability session at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“Well, you know I still call him ‘Coach Riley.’ I can’t help it,” Popovich said. “I guess he’s ‘Executive Coach Riley’ and all that, slash whatever. But he’s been a competitor obviously his whole career, since he was he was a player in college and beyond. He put together a team fairly, within the rules, that is a monster. So why wouldn’t he get credit for that. Why wouldn’t you congratulate him for that?”
“So I did. I always respected his competitiveness and how he ran things in New York and LA and so on and so forth. And as an executive, he’s done the same thing. He lets people do what they do, puts things together and he put together a hell of a team. And so I called him to thank him because I respect him so much — not to thank him but to congratulate him. That’s the last thing I do is thank him for that.”
In an environment where envy and raw competition can sometimes go overboard and ruin relationship and off-court friendships, a healthy rivalry between these two shot-callers and franchises should make for an even more interesting battle in The Finals.
The Heat were taken to the limit in the conference finals. The Spurs are well-rested after a sweep. What do you expect from Game 1 of The Finals?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I anticipate a double-digit Miami victory in the Finals opener that will have people jumping to conclusions they probably shouldn’t. The Heat are all lathered up and in rhythm, and the adrenaline of a third straight Finals trip, with the home court and crowd, should carry them through the opener. Then things can get interesting in this Finals.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: There is no such thing as too much rest for a team that relies on a 37-year-old, a 35-year-old and a 21-year-old (Kawhi Leonard) with an aching knee. It was just what the Spurs needed. That’s not guaranteeing they’ll win Game 1, but that rest will pay dividends over a long series.
Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: This is so hard to predict. We’ve seen Miami come out flat after a long rest before the Chicago series and San Antonio, too, against Golden State, only to complete that remarkable Game 1 comeback. The Spurs, no doubt, are going to have to shake off the rust, get a good sweat going and get back into the swing of things — and hope they’re not down 15 after the first quarter. The Heat paid a physical price for going seven games against the Pacers, but the fact that they didn’t have to travel after Game 7 and have two days off before Game 1, I don’t expect them to be too taxed. Once we get past the first 12 minutes, I expect a highly entertaining and competitive game.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: San Antonio will not have its ideal rhythm, but the Spurs will be able to deal with it. The problem won’t last the entire game. That is the benefit of experience. The LeBron James problem will, however, last the entire game for the Spurs. That is the Miami benefit of having the best player in the world.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It’s probably good for the Heat, because they struggled early in Game 1s against the Bulls and Pacers after long layoffs. The Spurs will likely be out of rhythm early, but that won’t be too big of a deal, because the Heat aren’t as good in the first half as they are in the second half and both teams will be feeling each other out in those first 24 minutes on Thursday.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: It’s The Finals, the best of the best going at it for all the marbles. I expect both teams to find a groove early and trade blows. I assume the rest has done the Spurs’ bodies good, even if they have to shake off a little rust to start Game 1. The Heat didn’t strike me as a team that was fatigued by what the Indiana Pacers did to them in the Eastern Conference finals, they were simply being challenged by a worthy opponent. They’ll get all that and more from the Spurs, a team that executes like no other in this league. What do I expect? How about a triple-overtime thriller with a game-winning shot at the buzzer to set the table for six more thrillers?
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I am going to go with a tactic I’ve learned over the last decade covering the NBA: Forget conventional wisdom. The Spurs have had this long break, they’ve had the chance to rest and scout and game plan. Meanwhile, the Heat will be tired and their effort inconsistent. So the Heat will probably win Game 1 going away, right?
Pawel Weszka, NBA Africa:Way too much rest for the Spurs, but an awesome opportunity to study the defending NBA champions for coach Gregg Popovich. I expect an early Spurs lead with the Heat stealing the opener at home eventually. San Antonio will move the ball a lot, but the Heat will be ready to force some turnovers down the stretch and test Tony Parker’s creativity. Tiago Splitter and Duncan will dominate the paint and it will take LeBron to bail out Miami again as coach Erik Spoelstra will be getting ready his big men for Game 2.
Aldo Avinante, NBA Philippines:Watching Gregg Popovich for a long time now, I believe he could not ask for a better scenario for his squad. Pop is known to rest his players in the regular season in favor of protecting their health for the brutal postseason grind. With Miami taking seven games to dispatch a very tough Indiana squad, it will have an effect — minimal or not — on their mental and physical stamina. Meanwhile, the Spurs have had a chance to recuperate and rest their older players. Pop will never let his squad be out of sync and their offensive and defensive game plan will be perfect for the upcoming series. They may struggle in the first few minutes of Game 1 but once they remember it’s just another basketball game, the machine-like approach of the whole Spurs system will kick in.
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.
Chris Bosh (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)
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 Caplanpoints 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.