NBA Finals rematch: Heat vs. Spurs
In a rematch of last season's NBA Finals, the Heat are in San Antonio to take on the Spurs tonight. Is this the last run for both teams' Big 3s? Our 5-on-5 crew weighs in.
1. True or False: A healthy Spurs team is the best in the West.
Amin Elhassan, ESPN Insider: True. It's not a question of having the best collection of talent, but San Antonio definitely personifies the "whole is greater than the sum of the parts" theory. The top seven minutes-per-game guys from 2012-13 have missed a combined 65 games this season, and the Spurs are just percentage points behind the team with the best record in the NBA.
Zach Harper, A Wolf Among Wolves: False. The Oklahoma City Thunder at full strength are still the top team in the Western Conference. It doesn't mean the Spurs can't take them down, but stopping Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in a seven-game series sounds easier than it actually is. And it sounds really hard to do.
Andrew McNeill, 48 Minutes Of Hell: False. I think a healthy Spurs team is at the very least top four in the league, but I give the edge to a healthy Thunder team. Kevin Durant is playing out of his mind, Serge Ibaka causes problems for the Spurs' defense, and Russell Westbrook is still very good. Oklahoma City by a nose.
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: True. But their health is always an issue and often makes them a difficult team to figure out during the regular season. No matter what, though, their track record of postseason success with this core gives them an experience edge others in the West just can't match.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: False. I still believe the Thunder are the best team at full strength, partially because they can outrun the Spurs if needed. But there's no doubt the Spurs are the most battle-tested, and that can be more valuable.
2. True or False: San Antonio is "a place of horrors" for the Heat.
Elhassan: True, though I wouldn't limit that to just Miami. LeBron must be watching TrueHoop TV Live (Wednesdays and Fridays at 2 p.m. ET!) because I've frequently called the AT&T Center a house of horrors (and not just because of the spotty cell signal and awful Wi-Fi). I might be scarred by the Ghosts of Playoffs Past (Robert Horry hip check, Tim Duncan's 3-pointer against the Suns, etc.), but I fully believe in the "San Antonio is an evil place for away teams" myth.
Harper: True. LeBron James understands the game of basketball pretty well and any decent basketball fan can see that the Spurs play the correct way. They play sound team defense, make the extra pass on offense, spread your defense out, and make you pay constantly. That's horrifying for NBA teams.
McNeill: False. I don't think the AT&T Center provides any real advantage to the Spurs when it comes to facing the Heat, but San Antonio may be a more undesirable matchup for Miami than Oklahoma City is. The Spurs are patient and disciplined enough offensively to test the Heat's defense more than the Thunder.
Wallace: False. LeBron is coming from a different perspective than the Heat overall, because his frustrations in San Antonio date to his days in Cleveland. Counting the time his Cavaliers were swept in 2007, LeBron is 1-4 in San Antonio in the Finals. The Heat won the one game they needed there last summer to swing home court back in their favor.
Windhorst: False. For the past 20 years, San Antonio has been hard on everyone but the Heat. They won there in the 2012-13 regular season and they did what they needed to do in the Finals, which was win one game. Seems OK to me.
3. True or False: This is the last run for the Heat's Big 3.
Elhassan: False. I guess it depends on how we define "last run," because I think this incarnation can still dominate in the East and challenge for championships, but the days of them being odds-on favorites, head and shoulders above the rest of the league, are over.
Harper: False. There's no way this is breaking up this summer, especially not if they can secure their coveted three-peat. Next season could be their last run, though, if they leave themselves flexibility for acquiring a big name in 2015.
McNeill: True. The big key is Dwyane Wade. Is he going to take less money again on his next contact? If not, is he going to be able to play up to the same level as his Big 3 counterparts? Wade's expiration date is fast approaching and a lot of what happens for Miami depends on him.
Wallace: False. Obviously, LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh can all opt out of their contracts to become free agents at the end of the season. But each player has indicated a desire to remain in Miami as long as the Heat are competing for championships.
Windhorst: False. I don't see any other serious threats to take LeBron. There may be some interest in Bosh elsewhere. But these guys are happy and successful, it looks like they'll be together for another year.
4. True or False: This is the last run for the Spurs' Big 3.
Elhassan: False. I made this mistake before, and promised I wouldn't make it again until Duncan hangs it up. Having a superstar talent willing to adjust his game and de-emphasize his role to preserve his freshness allows the Spurs to continue to retool and enhance the supporting cast. Tony Parker is still an incredible talent who can be the main engine that drives the San Antonio offense. Manu Ginobili is not a star anymore, but he is still a devastatingly effective role player. Whatever happens this season, if Duncan comes back next year, they'll be right back at it again.
Harper: False. I'm simply saying false because I gave up giving up on the Spurs two years ago. I have no idea when they'll actually break up this team and until I actually see it happen, I'll believe this is a perennial occurrence.
McNeill: False, but 2014-15 is. Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan (player option) and Tony Parker all have one year left on their contracts with the Spurs. This is not a team that cares about legacy or narrative, but the three of them going out together is too perfect. Parker won't retire, but who knows what his chances of returning will be with San Antonio possibly facing a rebuilding effort.
Wallace: False. Tony Parker is locked in for a few more seasons and the Spurs just extended Manu Ginobili's deal last summer. So this all comes down to Tim Duncan. There has been retirement speculation, but Duncan always seems to respond to those reports with his best games of the season. Unless the Spurs fall flat before the conference finals, I suspect they'll keep things intact for one more year.
Windhorst: False. All three have a year left on their contracts. If they don't win it this year, I see them finishing out their commitments.
5. Heat vs. Spurs: Who wins in a seven-game series on a neutral court?
Elhassan: I have the Heat winning the championship this season, but if they faced the Spurs on a neutral court, I'd have to go with the Evil Empire (San Antonio). Give Gregg Popovich enough cracks at it and he will figure out the necessary adjustments.
Harper: The Heat. If two teams are evenly matched like these two teams seem to be, I'll always end up taking whichever team has the best player on it. Throw in the neutral-court aspect to this matchup and I'll trust LeBron to take care of business, which almost didn't happen at home last year.
McNeill: Heat in six. LeBron James is still the best player in the world and I think the Spurs have regressed slightly since June's Finals. Granted, so has Wade, but I think the advantage still lies with Miami.
Wallace: Heat in seven. The Spurs had the Heat beaten but not defeated last year in the Finals. They couldn't finish the job. If nothing else, Miami is resilient and relentless. Until there's evidence of that changing, there's really no reason to expect or predict differently.
Windhorst: Heat. I'm taking the Heat in any series as long as they're reasonably healthy.