Nov 29, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; San Antonio Spurs center Boris Diaw (33) is pressured by Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) during the second half at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

NBA Finals Prediction: Heat, Spurs to face challenges they've yet to see in Playoffs

The NBA Finals will start tonight with Game 1 tipping off at 9 p.m. EST in Miami. The Spurs will be looking for their fifth title since 1999 and the Heat will be looking for their second straight championship.

The matchup of the Heat and Spurs will feature four former Finals MVP’s and as many as six future Hall of Famers and maybe even more. The Heat and Spurs were at least two of the best three teams in the league this season along with the Oklahoma City Thunder, whose title chances ended with Russell Westbrook’s injury.

This is a matchup that we’ve all been waiting for. It could have easily happened last season as well. Remember how good the Spurs were playing up until Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals last year? They aren’t being touted as highly this year but within the team they do seem to feel they are better than a year ago and they only lost twice so far in these playoffs and swept both the Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies.

The Heat needed seven games to get past the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals, the only series that was a challenge to them so far in this postseason. Dwyane Wade hasn’t looked nearly himself and has only scored over 20 points twice so far in the playoffs. Chris Bosh was pathetic vs. the Pacers and averaged just seven points per game in the final four games of that series.

The Heat still have LeBron James and that is something that no one can match up with. The Pacers were built as well as any team to slow down the King and they did a solid job overall but LeBron still managed to average 29.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game.

Overall, the Heat and Spurs haven’t played very many meaningful games since LeBron took his talents to South Beach. This season, both meetings did not include full rosters for either team and last year they only played each other once because of the lockout-shortened schedule. We don’t have a lot to go on in terms of prior meetings with these two teams.

Here are some important things to know going into this series:

The Spurs are not as good defensively as the Pacers or Bulls

Let’s not forget that the Pacers were the best defensive team in the NBA this season and they surely played the part in the ECF. The Spurs are good defensively but they aren’t the Pacers. Even the Bulls are a better defensive team than San Antonio. This is important because it means we should see the Heat able to get into their offense a lot better vs. the Spurs. We should see better ball movement, LeBron and Wade able to penetrate with more ease, more looks for Bosh and more open looks for Miami’s three-point shooters.

I think that Miami will be able to overwhelm the Spurs at times in the way that the Thunder started to do so last year in the WCF. This doesn’t mean Miami will definitely win the series because of this but don’t expect to see Miami to continue to struggle offensively the way they did against the Pacers.

The Spurs are by far the best offensive team Miami will see in the playoffs

This is pretty obvious but the Spurs’ offense will be something Miami has yet to experience in the playoffs. They are the definition of a well-oiled machine and if Miami has any defensive lapses like they did in a few games vs. Indiana, the Spurs will pick them apart.

The key to the Spurs’ offense is of course Tony Parker. If he can get into the lane with ease and dominate in the pick-and-roll then Miami will be in trouble. But if Miami can play defense the way they did in Game 7 vs. Indiana and force Parker into turnovers and the Spurs to not be able to get into their offense until late in the shot clock, the Spurs will be in trouble.

A lot of responsibility will lie on the shoulders of the Spurs’ role players as well. They will need to continue to make the open shots they will get and make other plays off the dribble against what will be a very aggressive Miami defense. We saw San Antonio’s role players kind of shrink away in the WCF vs. the Thunder last year and that can’t happen again.

The 2-3-2 format and the Spurs’ rest

The Spurs haven’t played since Monday, May 27 and that time off might make them rusty heading into Game 1 in Miami. No team ever wants to have that much time in between games but if there was a team that you think could handle it and use it to their advantage, that team is the Spurs.

The 2-3-2 format is always interesting too. Sometimes, the team with the worse record seems to have an advantage since they get three games in a row at home and can really steal the momentum of the series that way. The pressure will be off the Spurs in the first two games and if they can simply steal one of them, then going home for three in a row will be huge for them.

When you look at the Spurs and Miami, both teams are fully capable of winning on the road and won’t get into panic mode if they fall behind in the series.

The verdict

I think this series has to be a very close one. I don’t see how any team could really blow the other team out of the water and win in five games or something. Remember though that the Thunder outscored Miami overall in the first four games of the Finals last year so a series could still have close games and end early.

Each team will present the other with a new challenge they haven’t experience so far in the playoffs. And both teams have proven that they are able to rise to the occasion when they need to.

I think this series will go seven games much like the ECF did. If no team is able to win two games in a row, it wouldn’t surprise me at all. I do like Miami at the end of the day though. I think it will be too tough for San Antonio to defend the likes of LeBron and even Wade in this series for seven games and we may see Miami starting to dominate the deeper into the series we get, a la OKC last year in the WCF.

Prove me wrong though San Antonio. I wouldn’t be surprised if you do.

Tags: LeBron James Miami Heat NBA Finals NBA Playoffs San Antonio Spurs

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