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San Antonio is team best suited to challenge Miami coronation

May 28, 2013, 2:59 AM EDT

San Antonio Spurs v Memphis Grizzlies - Game Four Getty Images

What none of us really want — outside of a few diehards in South Beach — is the NBA playoffs to be a leisurely stroll to a Heat coronation. We want Miami tested, pushed, challenged at the very least. We want them to prove they have earned it (if they can). That starts with Indiana (which will have a better showing in Game 4).

But the team best suited to challenge if not outright beat Miami comes from San Antonio — and is now team now awaiting the Heat in the Finals (if Miami finishes off the Pacers as expected).

That doesn’t mean the Spurs can beat the Heat four times out of seven. But more than any other team in the NBA they have the right tools for the job.

1) Experience. As much as we may root for underdogs like Memphis or even Golden State to make it to the Finals, the bright lights and big stage can overwhelm, or at least give pause, to teams not used to them. And any team coming out of the West has no margin for error like that against the Heat.

But the Spurs are not going to wilt in that setting — their core has three rings, they have been to this dance before. They have the best coach in the business. They have been good on the road. They will push Miami with everything they have.

2) The Spurs system can diffuse the Heat’s pressure defense. Mimi is long, athletic, they pressure the ball and to make you turn the ball over (then they turn that into fast transition points). It’s a kind of pressure you think you are ready for after studying it on film, but it’s something else entirely to face in person. It’s hard to get into your sets.

But teams can diffuse that pressure with good point guard play combined with ball movement and moving off the ball. And that is exactly what the Spurs do.

Parker is not going to become a turnover machine — he and the rest of the Spurs ball handlers can handle pressure. What’s more the Spurs system can exploit a team that overplays passing lanes and tries to force turnovers — backcuts and quick ball movement could lead to open shots if not layups. The ball will move to the open guy quickly, and go ask the Grizzlies if San Antonio can knock down threes. Maybe the most obvious example of team play frustrating the Heat defense like this is the Mavericks in the 2011 Finals. This is a different Heat team in a lot of ways, but the same principles can be applied.

3) San Antonio has the size to hurt Miami inside. You need to score inside, you need to punish Miami for playing small if you are going to beat them. Tim Duncan, and to a lesser degree Tiago Splitter, can do this. San Antonio is not a low post team in the same way Indiana is, but they have real size and muscle inside and they can find some clever ways to exploit and take advantage of that.

There are still a lot of reasons Miami will be and should be favorites in the Finals (again, if they beat the Pacers).

For one, the questions about San Antonio have been how they would deal with a very athletic team — except they never had to face one to get to this point in the postseason. Oklahoma City was their matchup problem but the Russell Westbrook injury changed everything. Golden State was the most athletic team San Antonio faced, and they are average by NBA standards. Miami is wildly athletic and could just overwhelm the Spurs.

Second, this is a much better Heat team — one with a real sense of identity — than the one that won it all last year, or the one lost to the Mavs a couple years ago. This is a very good Heat team that can defend, moves the ball on offense, and it’s a team where the stars make smart basketball plays. They may just be better than the Spurs.

Finally, there is LeBron James. Having the best player on the planet in your uniform is a good thing.

But we want to see the Heat pushed. See LeBron tested. Make them really earn a ring if they can. And no team is better positioned to do that than San Antonio.

  1. funktron2x - May 28, 2013 at 2:51 PM

    None of you calling for heat to run them off the court have been paying a lick of attention to San Antonio. You are in for a rude awakening. I know you haven’t been paying attention because you talk about things like taking one piece away and thinking that will do it. Spurs are lethal because they are so good at so many things.

    • yumafreak - May 30, 2013 at 10:02 PM

      I think there is a coronation in place and if you read on David Stern’s history with the Spurs it is blatantly obvious who the commish is rooting for but…When Stern has tipped his hand the opposite outcome has occurred recently. I speak namely of three series: the 2004 NBA finals, the 2007 NBA finals (that one was all hype though but no one in the media once mentioned how the Spurs were going to roll the Cavs) and the 2011 NBA finals. In those series the league darlings per the media hype backed by Stern were wiped away like a bad sinus infection (no one would admit anything until the series was almost obviously over). If Miami does beat Indiana I put forth that it will be one helluva series between the Heat and San Antonio and probably more one sided than anyone thinks. Here is why

      Motivation: The Spurs are proud and there is no substitute for experience and motivation. If you don’t believe me go reference the three aforementioned series and also while I am writing this reference the ’93 finals. A motivated team equals not only a winning team but also one that plays above the refs influence and the league’s.

      Rest: The Spurs only had one blip in their run here and that was that Golden State took them to six games, aside from that they are well rested and the injuries are healing, and don’t think Pop will let them get rusty or complacent, this too much of an experienced team to go out and show that to be the case. The Heat on the other hand, were beat up by the Bulls (trust me it probably felt like an extra game on them) and are in a brutal war of attrition right now. And the Spurs won’t let them dance all over the court, plus factor in a mental fatigue factor that is being pushed on them by the Pacers and that the Spurs are capable of doing to the Heat as well and all signs point to a Heat implosion (possibly, I could also be wrong).

      Coaching: Rick Carlisle VS Erik Spoelstra was a bad match-up, Scott Brooks VS Erik Spoelstra was a draw with the edge going to Spoelstra because he did learn from the best. However Pop VS Spoelstra is no match-up, if the Heat win it will be because of the players not him. Don’t get me wrong he’s not a statue but compared to Pop he has no experience. And down the stretch when players are tired and that last adjustment needs to be made who do you trust to make that call?

      The Curse of being a tired one-seed vs the experienced shark: This is a direct reference to the 93 finals. In 93 Phoenix rode high, received the accolades, and didn’t finish the job, factor in Barkley’s Olympic time and Phoenix struggles in the Post-Season and it resulted in the Bulls sinking the Suns. Phoenix that year played (prior to the finals) 100 games regular and post-season, and throw pre-season in on top of that, faced elimination 4 times (3 in one series) and fell to a Bulls team that had only to deal with two losses against NYC. they had only played 96 games prior to the finals and did not face any elimination. In the finals they were overlooked, not talked about and not even favored until they went up 3-1 and ultimately won in 6 games.

      Miami has played 96 games tonight, plus factor in the three years under the microscope, their stars being physically abused, a ton of playoff, and regular season games not to mention having to trot out the stars for pre-season hoopla. That’s a lot of miles in such a short time. The Spurs have basically had the ’93 Bulls path this year and haven’t been this far in 6 years so not as many miles and have maintained a high level of competition, ultimately falling to better teams (which is the case in 98 % of most series) and they have developed young talent to go with their core.

      These are factors the media either chooses to ignore or not talk about until they look like idiots for not saying anything. The truth is whoever comes out of the East War (and this series is reminding me of the old Knicks Bulls rivalry) is easy pickings, all fanatics and hype aside, the Spurs will require no more than 6 games to win the title (then again I could be wrong, but I can admit it) .

  2. reedme16 - May 28, 2013 at 3:40 PM

    I have watched all of the Spurs games, and the only Spurs player that can handle an fast paced game is Parker. But Parker struggles with physical play also. Lebron won’t hold Parker all game, just I’m the 4th. And if you Spurs fans are depending on Parker destroying the Heat by himself then you are obviously delusional. It’s not just giving him the jumpshot it’s giving him to work for every shot and then forcing him to defend. The Spurs won’t benefit from having non shooters on the floor such as Prince and Tony Allen. They will actually have to play defense. Take away Parker and the Spurs have serious ball handling issues. Manu can handle the ball, But he is a turnover waiting to happen. There is no matchup between stars that favor the Spurs on defense. Even Parker guarding Chalmers, Cole, or Allen is a mismatch.

    I heard all this same talk about OKC last year. Now people are saying they weren’t even a legit contender for the Heat in hindsight. Spurs couldn’t even defend that OKC team last year but they are going to beat the Heat this year with a washed up Manu! Yea Right…….

    • apmn - May 28, 2013 at 5:14 PM

      If you truly have watched all of the Spurs games this year and still dismiss them like that, then you really don’t understand basketball. It is okay to be a Miami homer, but how can you deny that this is a great Spurs team?

  3. jbeagles23 - May 28, 2013 at 4:19 PM

    We have been watching San Antonio and they’re very patient but not very aggressive and a guy like Matt bonnet becomes completely useless in a series against the heat

    • apmn - May 28, 2013 at 5:07 PM

      I am not sure how you define aggressive but the Spurs average more ppg and more fast break ppg than the Heat.

  4. jbeagles23 - May 28, 2013 at 7:01 PM

    This is the 3rd article about a team being equipped to beat the heat. If any if these teams were as good the headline would be ” (insert team) is equipped to beat the spurs”. These articles are written to build tension In reality the heat are a much better team than the spurs

  5. jbeagles23 - May 28, 2013 at 7:01 PM

    This is the 3rd article about a team being equipped to beat the heat. If any if these teams were as good the headline would be ” (insert team) is equipped to beat the spurs”. These articles are written to build tension In reality the heat are a much better team than the spurs

  6. mosack11 - May 29, 2013 at 12:17 AM

    This is for all you heat fans and spurs haters, MIAMI ISN’T IN YET! If Parker and Duncan play the way they’ve been playing nobody from the East is going to beat them. They will contain LeBron just like they did Z Bo and Gasol.

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