Rappler's 2014 NBA Finals Roundtable Preview
It’s June and for hoop nuts the world over, that means one thing — the NBA Finals. For the second straight season, and the first time since the Jazz twice tried to dethrone His Airness in the 90s, we will have a much-talked-about rematch.
In the red corner is the team everybody loves to hate, the Miami Heat, seeking a franchise-first three-peat against the team most think is too boring to love, the San Antonio Spurs, who are seeking to kill off the demons of last year’s championship collapse.
We’ve gathered a few local NBA hoop nuts (from journalists to bloggers to everyday fans) to give their two cents on what should be another memorable Finals showdown. Here they are:
Jane Bracher (JB) writes for Rappler Sports full-time. She’s the tisay girl you’ve probably seen stalking those PBA players on the sidelines for the latest scoop. Oh, but you should know that there’s a ton of basketball knowledge behind that girly facade.
Navs Ganglani (NG) contributes for Rappler Sports and is the guy behind the relatively new sports blog, TheSportsPanel.com. He recently shadowed Ateneo rookie Arvin Tolentino for his origin story.
Mike Abasolo (MA) is the man behind Manila’s top college hoops blog, Inboundpass.com. He bleeds red and white for San Beda and also contributes to NBA Philippines.
Rolly Mendoza (RM) teaches chemistry by day and concocts pieces for HoopNut.com after punching out. Oh, and he might be Chris Bosh’s biggest fanboy since… ever?
Von Pessumal (VP) will enter his fourth playing year for the Ateneo Blue Eagles this season and is hoping to help the team return to the Final Four. He is honing his writing craft on the side and things look quite promising. Also, we’re hoping he is another reason the college girls will read this piece.
Alwin San Jose (ASJ) and Jay Santiago (JS) are two articulate and outspoken everyday Pinoy hoop nuts. ASJ is a staunch Celtics fan who is salivating at the prospect of having either Marcus Smart or Julius Randle next season. JS, meanwhile, recently dressed his newborn son in a San Antonio Spurs onesie. Yeah, you could say he’s not exactly rooting for the Heat.
We’ve prepped several questions for this distinguished panel of hoop nuts to answer. These aren’t the ubiquitous position-by-position analyses you’ll see elsewhere, but, rather, just some burning questions that should really give NBA fans a unique frame of reference heading into the last playoff series of 2014.
1) Why will Miami win this series and get a three-Heat?
JS: I can think of 3 reasons: #6, #3, #1 - nuff said. The past two seasons have proven this. (But please stop making "three-Heat” happen!)
MA: Destiny. It's Lebron James's time. He is no doubt the best player in the world, supported by future Hall of Famers, coached by one of the most innovative coaches in the league, and banked by an executive and a legend in Pat Riley.
JB: Miami will get the three-peat simply because they are fueled by the immense desire to prove themselves again. This team and its individual units, from the head coach down to its players, all still have something to prove in spite of their back-to-back titles.
RM: Miami can win the series because of their trapping and harassing defense. They have an extra gear defensively that can flummox the normally unflappable Spurs into taking bad shots and committing turnovers. Miami also has the best player in the world in his prime.
NG: Because Dwyane Wade is as healthy as he's been in recent memory, Chris Bosh is playing remarkably, and the Heat have the best player in the world in LeBron James. Sometimes, that's enough.
VP: LeBron James.
ASJ: As much as I hate living in a world where the term “Three-Heat” is in play (such a corny term, Enzo), they have a good shot of winning the Finals because of the following:
One, they have the best player in the series – some guy named Lebron James. Two, Wade being Flash and not Flashes (as my fellow lefty, Jalen Rose, would say) – Coach Spo did his best Pop player minutes conservation impression with him and it’s doing wonders in these playoffs. Three, Coach Spo always has that magic “bunot” off the bench that would give them the upper hand – Judas Shuttlesworth…that game 6 dagger. Sigh. And, finally, if Tony Parker’s ankle would not cooperate, then this would give Miami a better shot for its Three-Heat.
2) Why will San Antonio win this series and avenge last year’s collapse?
JS: The Spurs employ a beautiful offense that nullifies any defensive scheme, they have crafty defensive schemes of their own that take away whatever they feel like denying, and Tim Duncan promised that they will get it done this time.
MA: It's redemption time for the Spurs, and they mean it. First, they grabbed the league's best record, 62-20, gaining homecourt throughout. They needed to grab every bit of advantage, and they got it. There's a purpose in what they do, and it's obvious they're hungry based on how they blowout teams.
JB: San Antonio will win because they will absolutely refuse to lose back-to-back in the Finals against the same team. Their proven system will once again be put to the test and, this time, they will do everything to make sure they do not fail.
RM: The Spurs learned from their collapse, and they are stronger and better this season. They came back this season more focused and with extra motivation to win it all. They are very unselfish, and they have a system that utilizes each player's strengths and hides their weaknesses.
NG: If the series comes down to which coach can make better adjustments on the fly, then Pop will slightly outclass Spo. Also, San Antonio has its deepest roster in years, with Marco and Patty playing great. Manu also looks as young as ever.
VP: Tim Duncan knows he is too old, and he wants to exit with a ring.
ASJ: They are the last bastion of what basketball should be if you don’t have the glamour of the other markets: getting undervalued players, developing them within their system, gaining confidence with the trust that the coach has given to them throughout the season and, finally, having the focus for a full calendar year to get that second shot at Miami. System ball don’t let me down please.
3) Why is this an important series in the career of LeBron James?
JS: Lebron is all about his image of greatness, and a three-peat puts him in league with Michael Jordan. I'm sure his goal is a 4th to say he's even better than His Airness.
MA: Since scouts laid eyes on him, LeBron has been in so much pressure. At his peak, he has so much versatility that by the time he retires he can still dominate. This is revelation time for the King, and he's not going to back down. He is locked in.
JB: For LeBron, it always appears that he has to constantly prove himself. I personally don't know at what point will a collective agreement be made on where LeBron's place in NBA history is, but, right now, there's still plenty of doubt. So this series for LeBron will likely be more evidence for everyone to dissect and decide what he deserves. I will say, though, that as he guns for a three-peat, this is also a test of his leadership.
RM: It is important for LBJ because he wants to be the GOAT, or, at least, the greatest of his era. LeBron knows the history of the NBA, and he wants (or needs) to put himself in the same category of multiple ring owners (Magic, Bird, MJ, Kobe, etc) to squash any doubts of his supremacy among today's athletes.
NG: James says he wants to be the greatest ever, and he can't do that going 2-3 in his finals career. Also, Jordan and Kobe each have a three-peat in their resume; LeBron wants to join that elite club.
VP: If Miami wins this year, LeBron legitimately joins the discussion of the greatest players to ever play the game of basketball.
ASJ: Title number 3 would vault LeBron past (I can’t believe I am saying this as a Celtics homer) Larry Legend as the best small forward of all time. Moreover, this title would swing the direction on whether LeBron would stay in or leave Miami (though it still depends on Wade and Bosh lowering down their price to get more pieces – enough to convince LeBron that Miami is still the place where he will get his best shot at a title)
4) How will this series affect the legacy of Old Man River Walk Tim Duncan?
JS: With 4 titles, Duncan's claim (though I'm sure he doesn't care) as the best player of his generation lacks credence since Kobe has 5. Tying this, plus the sustained franchise success throughout his career tops Bryant's record as KB24 has those horrendous years during 2005-2007 under his belt.
MA: Duncan has nothing to prove, but, given what happened in 2013, the big fundamental is driven to take back what should have been his.
JB: Tim is 38 years old and a 4-time champ, aside from a long list of other accolades. Come on, his legacy is solid. This will only make it even deeper and more meaningful than it already is. Tim Duncan is Tim Duncan. No questions asked.
RM: Another ring for Duncan (his 5th) will solidify his hold as the best PF of all-time and certainly fuel talks of him being a Top 5 player of all-time... if he loses again to the Heat, it shouldn't affect his already sparkling career because 4 rings and 2 MVPs are quite an achievement.
NG: Win or lose, Duncan will still be regarded as the greatest power forward of all time. But a title for Timmy could allow him to go out and retire with a bang.
VP: It solidifies his spot as the greatest power forward in NBA history. Not that he hasn't already.
ASJ: Title number 5 will solidify Old Man Riverwalk’s hold at the Best Power Forward of All Time championship belt. But losing again in the Finals? For me, it would not really affect his legacy that much. Performing at an elite level at age 38 is a solidifying fact in the legend that is Tim Duncan (Father Time might be undefeated but The Huge Fundamental is defying this unbeaten record).
5) Will homecourt really be that big of an advantage?
JS: Home court will play a factor - this could be the only time we see LeBron's Heat down 0-2 in a series. I think it will finally happen!
MA: No, both are championship teams and impervious to the noise and can easily tune out unnecessary static.
JB: I think yes. In the conference finals, it played its part in the victories. There's no rocket science there. It's just much easier to play your best when the crowd got your back.
RM: Well, homecourt helped Miami last year, and it may help the Spurs if there is a Game 7 this year, but we have seen road teams win on the road especially in this year's playoffs. The Spurs finished the regular season with the overall best road record while the Heat finished with the East's best road record (8th overall). The advantage belongs to the Spurs, but the Heat know that they can win anywhere.
NG: I don't think so. I think games will be decided by the coaching changes and the little things like hustling for loose balls, 50-50 sequences, and offensive rebounds (Chris Bosh to Ray Allen in Game 6, anyone?). Furthermore, both teams have shown they can win big games on the road.
VP: Not really. Both teams will compete each and every possession regardless of homecourt.
ASJ: The cliché “The series has not started until the road team wins” will really hold true especially for the Spurs. They have needed every bit of that advantage given their road to the Finals (Dallas, Portland, and OKC). The Spurs don’t want the “what if” of playing game 7 again on the road affecting their championship hopes. Home cooking is what the Spurs need given that playing in front of your fans will elevate their game (from their Big 3 to their Foreign Legion).
6) Who are the potential series-changing x-factors here?
JS: Boris Diaw and Patty Mills for San Antonio. Diaw has been having a huge postseason, and I see him carrying the effort all the way to the end of the Finals. With Tony Parker ailing, look for Mills, who didn't get much playing time in last year's Finals, to seize his chance to put a mark on the series. For Miami, it’s Chris Andersen and Rashard Lewis. Birdman can outwork Diaw on the boards, and may force Popovich to play Splitter more. In contrast, Rashard will help open up the lane with his range. It's pick your poison with these two Heat bigs.
MA: Boris Diaw for San Antonio because he reminds me of Robert "Big Shot" Horry -- reliable, dangerous, and clutch. Collectively, Allen, Haslem, and Battier for the Heat -- wily vets who wreak havoc anytime.
JB: You know what, I'll go with Rashard Lewis for the Heat. He has just come alive and provided quality minutes (and triples) for them in their last two games. For San Antonio, I see Tim Duncan doing major damage. After beating Oklahoma, he declared, "We'll do it this time." That's definitely enough for me to be convinced he will be a monster in this series.
RM: Manu Ginobili for the Spurs. If Manu can provide close to his season averages and anchor their second unit, the Spurs will dominate. Ray Allen for the Heat. He delivered big games to knockout Garnett and Pierce while also making shots versus the Pacers. Look for Allen to hit clutch shots for Miami again.
For the Spurs, it's Boris Diaw, and for the Heat, it's Norris Cole. Diaw's ability to spread the floor will hurt the Heat, since the latter tends to break down on defense when facing good passing teams. Cole, meanwhile, will have to hound Parker's offense and make him work on defense.
VP: Manu Ginobili for the Spurs. He didn't show up last year, so it'll be interesting to see how he bounces back this year. Ray Allen for the Heat. Jesus is clutch. Spurs fans must dread every time he launches one into the air.
ASJ: For the Heat, it would be how Norris Cole plays. If Cole comes out with a lot of energy, he is an emerging young factor for Miami. (maybe this is how much I hate Mario Chalmers – amplified by my NBA Fantasy frustration with him – that I am rooting for Cole to bury him in the bench) For the Spurs, which Danny Green will come out? If last year’s games 6-7 Danny Green will come out, then Wade will have a field day in these Finals.
7) Finally, who will win and in how many games?
JS: The Spurs had it in 6 but let it slip away altogether. I see them taking care of business this time. In a 2-2-1-1-1 format, Spurs in 6 on the road.
MA: If last year pushed you to the edge of your seat, this series will be wretched. It's gonma be close - Heat in 7.
JB: Despite the Spurs dead-set on exacting revenge, I'm going with Miami in another 7-game thriller.
RM: Spurs in 7.... BUT I will be rooting for the Heat in 6 games.
NG: This could go either way because this series is 50-50, but I think the Spurs win in 7.
VP: I'm going with my gut. Spurs in 7.
ASJ: In Pop and System Ball I trust but…the Spurs have to win in 6. Otherwise, I am scared of Game 14 even if it’s in San Antonio. As a pure basketball observer, I am excited for this series. So many storylines and my expectations are sky high given last year’s instant classic of a series. Still I am more excited with the picture of Kevin Love meeting up with Rajon Rondo this weekend (Danny Ainge make it happen…I can’t stand being a basketball observer.)
So there you have, it, folks. Five out our seven contributors picked San Antonio to beat Miami. Guys like Patty Mills, Boris Diaw, and Manu Ginobili will be critical for San Antonio, while the performances of Chris Andersen, Rashard Lewis and, gasp, Norris Cole will be big factors for Miami. This Finals series also has the potential to affect LeBron’s legacy (and future) in a big way, while also potentially strengthening TD’s status as the best 4 in human history. Miami is looking at the first three-peat since the romance era of Shaq & Kobe, while the Spurs have a major score to settle.
In other words, there really are no words, except that this promises to be not just a sports entertainment marvel, but a legacy-cementing and era-defining collision between, arguably, the top two pro teams of the past few years.
As for me, I’m picking Miami, but my throat will be hoarse cheering for San Antonio. - Rappler.com
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