The San Antonio Spurs can beat the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, which open Thursday night.
I’m not predicting the Spurs will beat the Heat. It would be foolish not to make the Heat a favorite against any NBA team.
But here’s the distinction: I’ve thought for a while that the Spurs are the only team with the tools to take four of seven off the Heat. None of the other 28 has what the Spurs can offer.
I realize the Indiana Pacers took the Heat to a Game 7. While the Pacers exposed some flaws in the Heat, they didn’t have the experience or the reliable scoring options to close the deal. That Game 7 blowout Monday showed just how dangerous the Heat is when pushed to the limit.
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The Spurs are different. They have the best coach in the NBA, and maybe all of major league sports, in Gregg Popovich. They’ve had over a week’s rest after the Spurs blew through the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference final.
Most importantly, the Spurs have two of the NBA’s 10 best players in Tim Duncan and Tony Parker. It’s not just that Duncan and Parker are that good. It’s that one is a point guard and the other is a versatile big man. If you’re going to beat the Heat, those are the positions where you can attack.
I’ve heard others make the argument that the Oklahoma City Thunder or New York Knicks could have won a playoff series against the Heat. I don’t see that.
Once point guard Russell Westbrook suffered a season-ending knee injury, the Thunder was no longer the Thunder. Great as Kevin Durant is, he couldn’t keep Oklahoma City in the playoffs by himself. OKC became a team far too dependent on jump shots, making it easy for the Grizzlies to eliminate them.
The Knicks were never good enough. They became overly dependent on Carmelo Anthony for points. The Knicks made a predictable error a few years back by tying up so much money in Anthony and Amare Stoudemire, players with redundant, rather than complementary, skill sets.
The Spurs are different; Duncan, a great passer and shooter for a big man, and Parker, absurdly quick off the dribble, complement each other. Manu Ginobili is content as sixth man. Tiago Splitter, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green fit around Duncan and Parker, without detracting from what the stars do best.
The problem every team faces in playing the Heat is this: LeBron James isn’t just the NBA’s best player, he’s its most versatile player. At 6-8 and 240 pounds, he can simultaneously defend the opposing team’s power forward while serving as Miami’s de facto point guard on offense.
That means opponents typically stray from what they do best, attempting to match up against Miami’s strengths. You start playing “small’’ to find players quick enough to chase around James and Dwyane Wade, or to guard big man Chris Bosh out to the three-point line.
I see the Spurs as strongest at positions Miami is weakest. So while you can always say, ‘Who guards LeBron?’’ I can counter, “Who guards Duncan?’ and “Who guards Parker?’’
If the Spurs can force the Heat to match up with their strengths -- high pick-and-rolls for Parker, mid-range jumpers for Duncan and lots of open 3-point attempts for Green – they have a chance to win this title.
No one else in Miami’s path did.