Matchup for the ages: Heat and Spurs collide in NBA finals

The 2013 NBA Finals are underway, and what a matchup we have! The defending champion Miami Heat, fresh off a seven-game epic over Indiana meets the veteran San Antonio Spurs looking for their fifth title of the Popovich/Duncan Era after a sweep of Memphis. The series began Thursday night in Miami with game two coming Sunday night. The best of seven will go on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays with a 2-3-2 format. Miami has home court advantage with the first two and perhaps final two at home. The middle three will be in San Antonio.

Most experts believed this was a foregone conclusion for Miami to repeat coming into the playoffs. How things can change. Miami has looked more like a one-man team, with MVP LeBron James even saying this team felt like ones he soloed with in Cleveland. The Big Three, with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, has seldom been any of the sorts. Only occasionally have Wade and Bosh been much help to LeBron, and the other role players have struggled as well.

The only consistent cog off the bench has been midseason acquisition Chris Andersen.  ‘Birdman, Birdman’ is an amazing 38-for-46 from the floor in the playoffs. But Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Mike Miller, Norris Cole and the rest of the bench has been largely absent making the burden much heavier for James.

San Antonio on the other hand, has been cruising through the West dropping only two games against Golden State, with sweeps over the Lakers and Grizzlies bookending that. Despite their continued excellence, this is the Spurs’ first trip to The Finals since 2007 when they swept LeBron James and Cleveland. The Spurs are four-for-four in the Finals, but this is the first time they have played the top team from the East.

Unlike six years ago, the Spurs are Tony Parker’s team. Parker has been magnificent in leading the Spurs to the Finals. Memphis never could slow him down, nor has anyone else really. Tim Duncan is thriving in his late career secondary role, as is Manu Ginobili if not as consistently. Where Miami’s supporting cast has mainly fallen short, the same cannot be said of San Antonio.  Danny Green has produced consistent scoring from the perimeter and grit, with Tiago Splitter and Kawhi Leonard helping Duncan in the middle, and then there is ‘Pop.’

Gregg Popovich has long become professional basketball’s finest coach. The system and ideals he has put in place are always uncompromising, as is the performance of his team. Nothing fazes Popovich, always a cool hand even under the hottest of circumstances. His team reflects that. You may beat the Spurs, but you will have to do it. They will never do it for you.

The foregone conclusion is not anymore. The Spurs are clearly playing better coming in. The Spurs are a more complete team with better leadership from the sideline. The ‘x factor,’ as always, is LeBron. When all else is equal, the team with the better player typically wins. But based on three rounds of playoffs this year, not all else is equal. I look for the Spurs to win a great, long series. Most will call it an upset, but it will not be.