After starting with 16 playoff teams, we’re now down to two. You can make a strong case for both the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs to walk away with the NBA title. With that said, here are a few keys to victory for each team.
Effectiveness of Dwyane Wade: Forget LeBron James – the real key to the Heat winning is an effective Dwyane Wade. Let’s face it – James’ production will be there … it’s a sure thing. What Miami really needs is for Wade to play like he did in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers. His production has been significantly down in the postseason, but he looked like the Wade of old in Monday’s Game 7, scoring 21 points and leading the team with nine rebounds. Wade’s assist and rebounding totals haven’t been affected in the playoffs, but his offense is what’s been missing. He’s averaging only 14 points per contest while shooting only 45%. In the regular season, Wade scored more than 21 points a game and made just over 52% of his shots.
Battle of the Boards: The Heat won the series against the Pacers despite a huge rebounding disparity. Indiana dominated the glass during the series, outrebounding Miami in six of the seven games. In Miami’s four wins, they were nearly even with Indiana on the boards, but in the three losses? The Pacers walloped the Heat with an average of +15 per game on the glass. Even if Miami doesn’t outrebound the Spurs, they can still win games. But if San Antonio holds a significant margin, Heat wins could be scarce. And the key on the rebounding end for the team is Chris Bosh. Bosh rebounded well in the first two series, but disappeared against the physical Pacers. It’s no coincidence that in the one game the Heat won the rebounding battle against Indiana, Bosh had his best night of the series with eight boards.
Bench: Miami’s bench has been a bit streaky in the postseason, but they’ve got guys that are capable of having big games. Ray Allen’s production dipped significantly from the beginning of the postseason, but he had three 20-point games in the team’s first two series. Norris Cole had back-to-back 18-point games against Chicago in the second round. And Chris Andersen had a big 16 points and five rebounds in the Heat’s one-point series opener against the Pacers. All three are capable of stepping up and when you add a player like Shane Battier to the mix, the Heat have several guys that can steal the show. They don’t need all of those guys to step up every night, but if one or two of them can, that will go a long way.
San Antonio Spurs
Tony Parker needs to keep playing like Tony Parker: Parker’s career has seen a resurgence this year and is the biggest reason why the Spurs are playing for another title. But if San Antonio is to knock off the Heat, they’ll need him to keep playing as well as he has in the rest of the postseason. Parker struggled in his only game against the Heat earlier this year, with only 12 points while shooting only 4-14 from the field. That game, predictably, was a loss (albeit, a close one). Simply put, Parker’s the key for the Spurs and they’ll need every bit of the 23 points and seven assists per game he’s given them in the playoffs.
Continued success on the road: Without home court advantage, you don’t need an abacus to realize that the Spurs will need to win at least one game on the road. So far, that’s not been a problem. San Antonio’s dropped only two games in the entire playoffs and is a dominant 6-1 playing away from home. They haven’t yet played a team like Miami yet, but that early road success should help – particularly when it comes to the younger guys who haven’t yet played in an NBA Finals. If the Spurs can steal a game on the road early that will help. But when it’s all said and done, they may need to win two in Miami – and despite their track record this postseason in away games, that won’t be an easy feat.
Response of younger teammates: Many associate this Spurs team with experience and aging veterans, but the fact is that San Antonio has been relying on several younger players all year long. While Parker, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili have been to the Finals several times, much of the team has not. Three of the Spurs’ starters, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, and Tiago Splitter haven’t yet been to the championship round. And while it’s true that the team will rely on Duncan and Parker to carry them, San Antonio won’t be able to win without their younger starters contributing. Having a good bit of playoff experience will certainly help, but those earlier series won’t match the pressure of the Finals – especially since San Antonio wasn’t tested much. How Leonard, Green, and Splitter react could be the difference between winning and losing.