It’s difficult to get a detailed scouting report on the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs because during the regular season both teams decided to play a little game of call-in-sick.
When the Spurs visited Miami in Nov. 29 coach Gregg Popovich sent Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili home and rolled out his junior varsity squad to face the Heat on nationally televised game on TNT. Naturally, the Heat rolled to a 105-100 victory.
The move didn’t sit well with Commissioner David Stern, and Popovich was forced to write a $250,000 check to the league office.
In the second Spurs-Heat matchup in March 31, coach Erik Spoelstra pulled a Popovich and sat LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. But Spoelstra was slick enough to warn the league what he was doing, so he wasn’t fined. Despite being shorthanded, the Heat beat the Spurs, 88-86, thanks to Chris Bosh’s game-winning 3-pointer.
As far as we know Popovich and Spoelstra don’t plan on sitting their superstars in the 2013 NBA Finals, which begins June 6. OneManFastBreak.net examines the potential matchups that we’ll see between the Spurs and Heat.
TONY PARKER VS. MARIO CHALMERS/NORRIS COLE
Once he got over his ankle injury, Parker has leapfrogged over Chris Paul as the best point guard in the NBA. Parker was the lead engineer in the total destruction of the Memphis Grizzlies’ once vaunted defense, ripping Memphis for 37 points in the series-clincher. In the two games in Memphis, Parker averaged 31.5 points and made 26 of his 43 shots from the field, a whopping 60 percent accuracy. Slowing down Parker will be a team effort, and Chalmers and Cole will get the assignment. But don’t be surprised if LeBron James guards Parker at some point during the series. EDGE: SPURS
LEBRON JAMES VS. KAWHI LEONARD
Since Bruce Bowen retired in 2009, Leonard has picked up the role of stopper for the Spurs. The Spurs traded guard George Hill to Indiana for the 15th pick overall in 2011 because they needed a perimeter defended to guard the likes of LeBron James. Now in his second year with the Spurs, Leonard will have the difficult task of marking the four-time NBA MVP who believes he is 50 times better than he was back when the Spurs swept the Cavaliers in the 2007 Finals. Leonard won’t be left on an island because Tim Duncan will have his back every time LeBron gets the ball at the high post, where this series will be decided. The Pacers have arguably the best perimeter defender in Paul George and the arguably the best rim protector in Roy Hibbert, and they still couldn’t stop LeBron. Good luck, Kawhi. EDGE: HEAT
DWYANE WADE VS. DANNY GREEN
The biggest reason why Wade struggled so much in the Heat-Pacers series was because he had to guard Paul George. It took away his legs and some of his confidence. When LeBron guarded George in Game 7, Wade looked like a guy who had a 30-pound weight lifted off his shoulders. All of a sudden, Wade found his groove. He got more aggressive and started impacting the game on the offensive end. Danny Green is not Paul George, so Wade will be able to rest his troublesome right knee when the Spurs have the ball. Green will try to run Wade off screens and wear him down with constant movement, but Wade is smart enough to know that Green is not going to drive the ball to the basket like George or Lance Stephenson so he’ll try to run Green off the 3-point line and force him to put the ball on the floor. EDGE: HEAT
MANU GINOBILI VS. RAY ALLEN
In a battle featuring two old warriors past their primes but still capable of ripping your hearts out while coming off the bench, Ginobili and Allen are hoping to squeeze one of championship before riding out into the sunset. Allen has struggled for much of the 2013 playoffs, but every now and then he can turn back the clock and knock down crucial threes. He did in Game 7 against the Pacers when he buried three of his five 3-point attempts. Speaking of burying threes, Ginobili’s signature moment of these playoffs came in Game 1 of the West semifinals against Golden State when his clutch 3-pointer pushed the Spurs to a win in double OT. Manu is two years younger than Ray, so he has just a little bit more left in the gas tank. EDGE: SPURS
TIM DUNCAN VS. CHRIS BOSH
In reality this should be a mismatch because Bosh is younger and still in his prime while Duncan could be playing in his final postseason. But this matchup could be the biggest mismatch outside of the LeBron-Kawhi duel. Duncan is looking spry and doesn’t look like a 37-year-old veteran. The Big Fundamental was sensational in two overtime victories over the Grizzlies in the West finals, and defensively he completely erased Zach Randolph from the series. While Duncan is surging, Bosh is in a downward spiral. Bosh is in one of the worst shooting slumps of his playoff career, and it doesn’t look like he’ll be snapping out of it soon. This will likely be Duncan’s last chance at winning a championship, and a fifth ring would put Duncan in elite company. EDGE: SPURS
MILLER/HASLEM/BIRDMAN VS. SPLITTER/NEAL/RED ROCKET
You could call this the battle of the role players. Shane Battier was useless against the Pacers’ immense size, but he could be back in the rotation because the Spurs like to play “small ball” at times. But if he continues to struggle with his shot, Spo won’t hesitate to call Mike Miller’s number off the bench. Or, you may see Battier come in for Udonis Haslem if Pop decides to replace Tiago Splitter in favor of Matt “Red Rocket” Bonner. Gary Neal can go hot or cold, if he’s hot he could provide the offensive spark the Spurs need off the bench if Ginobili continues to struggle. The wildcard for Miami is Birdman Andersen. Spo played Birdman and Bosh together a lot against the Pacers, but that may not be necessary against the Spurs. Birdman could be used as Bosh’s backup against Duncan. The Heat are the best small-ball team in the league, so it will be interesting to see if Pop stays big much like the Pacers did. EDGE: HEAT
PREDICTION: The Spurs like to play fast, which falls into the Heat’s wheelhouse. As the Bulls and Pacers found out, it takes a lot of effort, energy, and near-perfect execution for an entire series just to compete with the Heat. In the Duncan-Popovich era, the Spurs are vulnerable against dominant perimeter players. The key to beating the Spurs is having a great perimeter player who can destroy their first line of defense and compromise their back line. Kobe Bryant did it for years, and Russell Westbrook and James Harden did it in the 2012 playoffs. The Heat have the ultimate destroyer in LeBron James and when he shifts into fifth gear there is nothing the Spurs can do to stop him. HEAT IN SIX
Joel Huerto is editor and publisher of OneManFastBreak.net. Follow him on Twitter @onemanfastbreak.