Are the Spurs and HEAT On Another Collision Course?
With plenty of playoff basketball left to decide what the eventual Finals matchup will be, things are beginning to have an eerily familiar vibe for the two teams that battled for the crown last year.
Before you pound your desk, keyboard, or laptop in protest, take a moment to consider the idea. Would it really be the end of the world to watch a rematch of what was one of the more entertaining NBA Finals in recent memory? Although there will always be a certain percentage of you that will rebuke the mere thought of watching a Finals that involves the Spurs (especially outside of San Antonio), many of us have come to truly appreciate Gregg Popovich’s preferred style of play as well as the manner in which the Spurs conduct themselves.
While they may be a far cry from your father’s “Spurs” that depended heavily upon Tim Duncan’s post game for years, this group still possesses the type of cutthroat precision we’ve now come to enjoy. Their core of Tony Parker, Duncan, and Manu Ginobili are still very effective (especially when rested), but aren’t constantly leaned upon quite so much as they were in the past. The difference is, they now have the type of athletes that can also cause havoc on both sides of the court. Throw in the fact that said athletes also tend to do the right thing with the ball more often than not, and you can see why some consider this roster one of the more versatile that Popovich has ever had the pleasure of leading.
On the flipside, while some may be afraid to ask the question, could things have broken any better for the Miami HEAT? In what was expected to be an absolutely grueling march toward becoming the first team to represent a conference in four consecutive Finals since the late 80’s, Miami was actually able to somewhat cruise throughout extended portions of the season. To be clear, no one is going to care about the regular season narrative if they are in fact able to complete the task. History tends to be forgiving that way, especially when it comes to sports and athletic accomplishments.
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The truth of the matter is, while the conference may have been atrocious at some points throughout the regular season, the HEAT cannot be faulted for simply playing the schedule placed before them, and should be commended for enduring some of significant injuries and limitations of key contributors. Dwyane Wade, alone, missed 28 games in the regular season. Part of that can likely be attributed to various injuries and ailments that are expected with such a long season, but a portion of the missed time was likely due to coach Spoelstra employing a similar tactic to Popovich.
While it may have irked former commissioner David Stern and the league office from a fiscal point of view, the Spurs have been wisely monitoring and resting their core players throughout the regular season (and in preparation for the playoffs) for years. Although a legitimate argument against the practice could be made by fans that pay what can be exorbitant ticket prices, cooler heads generally prevail amongst the fan bases once Popovich and Spoelstra are able to put rested and relatively healthy bodies on the court for the playoff push.
Of course, the query at hand is by no means intended as a slight toward the rest of the field. Clearly, the task remains every bit as difficult for San Antonio to even make it through the remainder of the Western Conference bracket. Portland showed they aren’t going down without a fight, but you would expect San Antonio to take care of business with a 3-1 lead in the series and heading home. Even if a stacked Clippers squad eventually falls, a certain MVP and running-mate in Russell Westbrook could very well prove to be an unbeatable tandem when all is said and done.
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In the East, Miami still has to close things out against a battle-tested group in Brooklyn, and would have their hands full with a pesky bunch in the Wizards if Washington were to advance. The “burning question” remains, can the Pacers be focused and even ‘connected’ enough to challenge Miami as many of us anticipated throughout the season?
As talent-laden a group as you’ll see on paper, Indiana’s late-season struggles caused some fans to already await a potential ESPN ‘30 for 30’ documentary breaking down their locker room issues to merely explain how their season went awry. Their recent turnaround at least makes it appear as though we’ll potentially get the ECF many anticipated, but one can hardly be faulted for not being able to place a lot of trust in Indiana beyond that.
Unless they can generate the defensive intensity the team has generally fed upon when rolling, ‘individual’ talent (alone) probably isn’t enough to knock this HEAT team off. Roy Hibbert is absolutely going to have to recapture whatever magic or mojo he had going during a 2013 ECF that saw him average 22.1 PPG and 10.4 RPG vs. Miami in seven games. If you aren’t able to either dictate tempo and significantly limit the “Big 3” or take advantage of them along the interior and on the glass, then you’re probably in for a short series against the back-to-back champions.
To be clear, absolutely no one would complain about a rematch of the 2012 Finals (or any other eventual matchup for that matter) that resulted in a 4-1 Miami HEAT triumph over a younger, and far less experienced Oklahoma City Thunder core. A face off between LeBron James and Kevin Durant for basketball supremacy would be perhaps the perfect plot twist and ending to what has been an unpredictable 2013-14 season.
That said, beyond having the proper combination of talent playing well (and together) at the right time, the teams that are healthiest and take the path(s) of least resistance tend to end up representing their respective conferences. Although some of us prefer to avoid comparisons of each and every current feat, the potential historical significance of that rematch would be impossible to ignore. Not only from an individual perspective in terms of players’ legacies, but for what it would also say about the small market vs. big market myth (remember that?). Even though they’ve gone about compiling the talent in different ways, both the HEAT (14th ranked market) and Spurs (24th) have proven smaller market teams can not only achieve success, but maintain it as well.
As it stands, while nothing is guaranteed, this does appear to be where we are headed, and far be it us to complain about what would be yet another showdown for the ages.
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