NBA Finals Predictions

Posted: 06/06/2013 by levcohen in Basketball

The Finals start tonight! Heat vs. Spurs. Two great offensive teams with a combined four superstars in my list of fewer than 20 (Parker, Duncan, James, Wade). Two sub-par rebounding teams (sorry old-timers. These aren’t your grandfather’s championship teams.) Two terrific coaches. A combined three sweeps and six losses in the postseason. The #1 seed in the East against the #2 in the West. It’s going to be awesome.

Questions for the Heat:

Big Question #1: Who guards Tony Parker?
We all saw Parker earlier in the playoffs. He was unstoppable. By looking at positional match-ups, one would expect Mario Chalmers to guard Parker. That would be a disaster for the Heat. I think they might surprise a lot of people and put LeBron James on Parker and rotate the other four defenders. Still, I don’t think Spoelstra wants LeBron on Parker for the whole game. He is still their best offensive option (by far) and he would get tired. So for at least 10-15 minutes, expect Norris Cole or Chalmers to guard Parker. I would rather have Cole on Parker. He is a better on-ball defender (ranked in 77th percentile among PGs in on ball defense, Chalmers under 50th percentile), which is vital against Parker. Of course, with Cole, you lose a lot of spread-the-floor and strength you gain with Chalmers. Chalmers was played more than Cole in the ECF, and I expect that to nearly even out in this series.

Big Question #2: Can you stop Tim Duncan from having the same success that Roy Hibbert and David West had against you?
Not if you want to play him one on one. By the end of the series against the Pacers, the Heat were double teaming Duncan. And it worked. There are two problems with that. One is that Duncan is clearly a better passer than Hibbert, and should be able to pass out of the doubles. The second is that the Spurs are full of snipers who can break a team from three. So, yes, you can limit Duncan’s scoring. But pick your poison.

Big Question #3: Can you go to your “small lineup”?
Throughout the regular season, the Heat thrived by playing a small lineup, featuring bench players Shane Battier and Ray Allen. Against the Pacers, they were not able to do that. Battier and to a lesser extent Allen had a hard time guarding bigger and more athletic players. Battier had to guard David West, and he wasn’t able to do that. I think he’ll have more luck against the Spurs. Guarding Matt Bonner and Tiago Splitter is a lot easier than David West, and Battier will be able to play more. As will Allen. So yes, you can, but as long as Duncan is in you need one big, whether it is Bosh or Birdman.

Big Question #4: Can you get Bosh involved?
Chris Bosh was the second best Heat player in the first two rounds. He was not that in the third round, as he struggled against Roy Hibbert. Tim Duncan is also a terrific defender, and Bosh needs to drive to the hole more than he did against Hibbert. Bosh has great talent, but I’m not sure this is a perfect match-up for him, either.

Questions for the Spurs:

Big Question #1: Will they be rusty?
Well, we’ll see soon enough. The Spurs haven’t played for more than a week, which is usually a bad thing. Still, they have just the coach to make that into a positive by thinking up new schemes and plays. So yes, they may be a bit rusty, but probably not very.

Big Question #2: Can Kawhi Leonard do anything to slow LeBron James down?
Kawhi Leonard is a good defender. But he’ll need to be great in the Finals if he wants to slow LeBron James down at all. I think, at best, he plays LeBron like Paul George did. Against George, LeBron was sometimes frustrated, although he still ended up putting up huge numbers. If LeBron wants to go into the post, he will be able to against Leonard, much like he was against George. I do think the Spurs will be able to double LeBron more often because of their fast guards.

Big Question #3: Will the Spurs role players- namely Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, and Matt Bonner- hit their 3’s?
In the regular season, Green shot 43% from three. He has shot basically the same in the playoffs, and even a tick higher. Leonard shot 37% in the regular season, and that’s up to 42% in the playoffs. Bonner hit 44% in the regular season, and is at 50% for the playoffs. Can they keep this up? It will be important, because they are going to get their fair share of open shots with Parker and Duncan to worry about.

Big Question #4: What kind of role will Tiago Splitter have in this game?
Splitter is the Spurs starting center, and his biggest contributions are normally setting picks and rebounding. I think the Spurs will need him to score just a bit more in the Finals, especially since they are playing a smaller Heat team. If he can up his scoring into double digits, the Spurs will be in good shape.

Finals Prediction: Spurs in 7 (that’s also what I’m hoping for)

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