The Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs have been arguably the top two teams in the NBA this season. The Heat tore through the Eastern Conference and are the No. 1 overall seed in the playoffs while the Spurs snatched the No. 2 seed in the West, although some might say they were more consistent overall than Oklahoma City. The two will kick off the NBA Finals in Miami on Thursday, and the stakes will be high.
Game 1: San Antonio Spurs @ Miami Heat
Odds: Heat -5
The Spurs have been on fire in the postseason, sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers as well as the Memphis Grizzlies, while eliminating the Golden State Warriors in six games. They have an excellent inside-outside game with Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, while a beaten-up Manu Ginobili has been allowed to rest as the Spurs have been off since May 27th. But the key to the Spurs’ success is coach Gregg Popovich, whose no-nonsense style is abrasive to some (especially to reporters), but you can’t deny his four NBA titles and the way he gets everyone to buy into the system. Duncan and Parker are the stars but everyone on the Spurs knows their role and if you don’t fill it, you’ll be on the pine.
The Heat have a similar style, but they’re much more dependent on their stars and athleticism. Specifically, they can lean on LeBron James, the four-time NBA MVP that has grown a lot since his Cleveland Cavaliers were unceremoniously swept in the Finals by the Spurs back in 2004 when he was just 21 years old. It has been a roller coaster ride for James since then, but he is undoubtedly the best player in the world right now; he just needs some help. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh played much better in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against Indiana than they have been, but they’ll need to be even better against the Spurs. The bench, led by Ray Allen and the defensive intensity of Chris “Birdman” Andersen, will also have to step up.
Miami is a five-point favorite at home, where they have lost twice at home in the postseason and have shown a few cracks. These two have split their last 10 meetings since January 2008, but the Heat have won the last four and they seem to embrace the challenge of facing the perennial title contenders from San Antonio, who have lost their last three on South Beach.
This will be a fascinating series from the opening tip as both teams like to get out and run (which is surprising when you consider San Antonio’s plodding past), and the chess match between Popovich and Miami counterpart Erik Spoelstra will be fun to watch. In-game adjustments could make or break the series for either coach, but you should expect James to take over as he has spoken of the embarrassment he felt back in 2004 and you get the feeling he has been looking forward to this for nine years. Your pick on the betting lines on Thursday night should go to the defending champs from Miami.
Pick: Heat -5