Spurs have the horses to challenge LeBron's Heat | Basketball | CBC Sports

NBASpurs have the horses to challenge LeBron's Heat

Posted: Wednesday, June 5, 2013 | 02:53 PM

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San Antonio's Big 3 of, from left, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have won 98 playoff games together and three NBA titles. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images) San Antonio's Big 3 of, from left, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have won 98 playoff games together and three NBA titles. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

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The good ol' Spurs are back in the NBA Finals, and match up well with the Miami Heat. In fact, when throwing around the term "Big 3" in this series, it applies first and foremost to the San Antonio trio of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.
If you're one of the basketball fans who are still holding on to that hate for the Miami Heat, then the next two weeks could be big for you.

Repeating as NBA champions is an absolute must if this current incarnation of the Miami franchise can ever be regarded among the NBA's all-time elite. In fact, they would have to win it next year too.

For some historical background on great teams looking for their second straight championship (both of them three-peated), there were very few doubts about the 1992 Chicago Bulls going into the NBA Finals against the Portland Trailblazers, or the 2001 Lakers going up against Allen Iverson's Philadelphia 76ers.

The same cannot be said about this year's Heat squad as they prepare to tip off against your older brother's San Antonio Spurs.

The Big 3 -- or Superfriends or whatever you want to call them -- are no longer worthy of a triumvirate superlative, at least based on this post-season. We know that injuries have continued to take their toll on 31-year-old Dwyane Wade for the past couple of seasons and that he will never again consistently be the player he used to be.

We know that Chris Bosh -- both by choice and coach Erik Spoelstra's utilization of him -- is no longer a true power forward despite his complete inability to be considered a "stretch four." Bosh attempted more shots from three-point range this year than any other in his career, hitting a very weak 28.4 per cent of them. Although his post-season percentage is up to 48.4 per cent, virtually everything else he does has dropped off. He averaged 11 points and 4.3 rebounds per game on 37.7 per cent shooting against Indiana in the Eastern Conference final.

The shortcomings of the rest of the Miami roster put into sharper perspective the work being done by LeBron James. This, even as it becomes more and more legitimate to question whether he's selfish enough on the floor. But in Game 7 of the East final against the Pacers, James deferred early to Wade, helping the latter get into a zone that produced his best game of the playoffs. Bosh even pulled down eight (8!) rebounds and soon-to-be-38-year-old Ray Allen woke up with three treys.

When it all works, this is what James does. But he needs those other parts to work.

That's why it's totally off-base to compare the LeBron of today with the LeBron of 2007 -- the one who singlehandedly carried the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals and a sweep at the hands of these very Spurs. Injuries, age or misplaced energy aside, this Miami team is light-years better than that Cavs squad (Case in point, that Cleveland team's second-leading scorer was Larry Hughes). James himself is light-years better than he was a 22-year-old too.

Spurs' Big 3 well rested

Having said that, the good ol' Spurs are back in the Finals for the first time since then, and match up well with Miami. In fact, when throwing around the term "Big 3" in this series, it applies first and foremost to the San Antonio trio of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. The Spurs' bedrocks have won 98 career playoff games together -- second in NBA history only to the 1980s Lakers threesome of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Cooper.

And as Complex magazine's Russ Bengtson adroitly tweeted when the Spurs advanced to the Finals over a week ago with a sweep of Memphis, "Gregg Popovich is going to have time to conduct a land war in the former Soviet Union before the Finals."

As media attention invariably turned to the Spurs coach's November decision to send his Big 3 home early from a road trip, missing a nationally televised matchup in Miami (and earning the wrath of David Stern), it wouldn't be crazy to suggest the former U.S. Air Force officer is cackling diabolically in a bunker ahead of the series.

Even though, because of Pop's stunt in November, the Spurs' Big 3 hasn't faced the Heat's Big 3 since March of 2011, the matchups still seem favourable. San Antonio's backcourt rotation of Parker, Danny Green, Ginobili, Gary Neal and Canadian Cory Joseph has to be considered superior right now to Miami's banged-up Wade, Allen, Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole.

While there's no doubting James's ability to play basically three positions if he has to up front for Miami, Bosh looked terrible against Indiana's big Roy Hibbert. How will he fare against Duncan and Tiago Splitter? And if he wants to keep playing the stretch four, maybe he can try to trade baskets with more of a real one in former Raptors teammate Matt Bonner.

The aging Spurs' legs have been kept a little younger the past few seasons by Green and small forward Kawhi Leonard. It will fall on Leonard to often guard James, and while that's a lose-lose proposition, keep in mind the San Diego State product held opposing forwards to a 14.3 Player Efficiency Rating. That's very good. He won't do it against James, but can he do enough to mildly disrupt him?

With all these things seemingly in San Antonio's favour, you'd think I'd be calling a Spurs victory, right? Not quite. I'm calling a seven-game series. Miami can still win. For their legacy, they need to. If they don't, the haters will be right there, pointing out how last season was an "asterisk" year due to the lockout.

NBA Finals quick facts

Season series

2-0 Heat

Top post-season performers

Tony Parker, San Antonio: 23 ppg, 7.2 apg.

LeBron James, Miami: 26.2 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 6.4 apg.

Canadian content

Pickering, Ont., native Cory Joseph has found a nice niche for a 21-year-old second-year player in the Spurs backcourt, playing an average of 10 minutes in every playoff game.

Veteran Heat big man Joel Anthony of Montreal hasn't played much this season or post-season thanks in part to Miami coach Spoelstra's stretch-it-out style, and he hasn't been particularly effective when he has played.

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