The Miami Heat got a well-deserved consolation win against the New Orleans Hornets on Friday night, but they'll have to earn their next one against the San Antonio Spurs. The battle of the top-seeded teams is set to go down at the AT&T Center on March 31, and the Spurs are out to even the season series.
Moreover, San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich would love to see his balanced attack take down Miami's fast-paced offense. These two teams could easily meet up in the NBA Finals, and the clash of styles would be something all fans would love to watch.
But this means Miami must be ready for a battle that will last from start to finish. The Spurs just took down the speedy Lob City Los Angeles Clippers, and defeating the defending champion Heat would provide the team with plenty of momentum as the regular season enters its final weeks.
Of course, Miami will want to get right back on the winning track and enter the playoffs on as high a note as possible, which means doing all it can to beat the Spurs handily.
But that's not going to happen. This game is going to be close from start to finish, and only one can emerge as the victor.
Time: Sunday, March 31, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBA TV, Sun Sports, Fox Sports Southwest
Records: Miami Heat (57-15) vs. San Antonio Spurs (55-17)
Key Storyline: Can Spurs Strike Down Another Speedy Offense?
The Spurs just defeated the Clippers in an incredibly close matchup, and they are hoping that the momentum from it will help them avenge their earlier loss to the Heat.
Both teams last met on Nov. 28 and though Gregg Popovich famously sent his stars home, San Antonio managed to go toe-to-toe with the Heat from start to finish. Were it not for a late three-pointer by Ray Allen, the team likely could have avoided its 105-100 loss.
Round 2 is going to be far different.
Instead of a bunch of youngsters, the Spurs are likely going to be fully stocked from top to bottom. Given how the Heat could not even fight off and manhandle the reserves, it's going to be interesting to see what happens in this game.
No matter how you look at it, this one is going to be close from the opening tip up until the final buzzer.
Key Matchup: Dwyane Wade vs. Danny Green
Dwyane Wade is definitely the Robin to LeBron James' Batman, and Miami will be looking for him to have a strong game against the Spurs. The two-time champion is, once again, having an excellent season. He is averaging 21.3 points, five rebounds, five assists and 1.9 steals per game, and has also shot an excellent 52 percent from the field.
Over his last three games, Wade has posted 18 points, five assists and 3.7 steals while shooting 51 percent from the field. However, he has also averaged five turnovers per contest.
Despite that, Wade needs to be a defensive beast against the Spurs as well as a fine scorer. This is because he'll be matched up against a fine young shooter in Danny Green, who has been nothing short of excellent for San Antonio this season.
The former Tar Heel is only averaging 10.7 points per game, but has shot 45.5 percent from the field and 44 percent from downtown. He can create off the dribble as well as pull off the catch-and-shoot, so one can see how important he is in the Spurs' offense.
His job is going to be to fight through Wade's tough defense from start to finish, not letting the man's superior experience get to him under any circumstances. If he sees an opportunity to drive the lane, he must take advantage of it.
If he's wide open in three-point territory, he cannot hesitate to take the shot.
He doesn't even need to defeat Wade in the scoring department, just do his best to keep up with him. So long as he can do that, the Spurs have a chance.
Otherwise, Miami could very well run the table again.
X-Factor: Ray Allen
Miami's offense will need to be in top form against San Antonio, which means Ray Allen must have a good night as the team's sixth man and shooter. Despite being 37 years old, he has averaged 10.7 points per game while shooting 45 percent from the field and 42 percent from long range.
He has only posted 8.2 points over his last five games, but has shot 50 percent from the field and an amazing 56 percent from long range. It just goes to show that Allen is like a fine wine: he only gets better with age.
Whether it's working the catch-and-shoot or finding his own shot, or even driving the lane, the man still has it. He needs to be at his best against San Antonio, as the Spurs rank fourth in points scored compared to fifth-ranked Miami.
He is the key to his team keeping up on offense, and a bad night instantly makes a win harder to come by.
Predicted Starting Lineups:
PG: Norris Cole
SG: Dwyane Wade
SF: LeBron James
PF: Udonis Haslem
C: Chris Bosh
PG: Tony Parker
SG: Danny Green
SF: Kawhi Leonard
PF: Tim Duncan
C: Tiago Splitter
This game is going to be a nail-biter from start to finish, but I'm picking the Spurs to win it late in the fourth quarter. The Heat will put up a respectable effort, but clutch baskets from Gary Neal and Danny Green will seal the victory for San Antonio.
This is because the Heat, as they have done in each of the past two seasons, will overly rely on their Big Three to bring the game home late, even though their shots aren't falling. As a result, they will try and shoot their way out of the hole instead of adjusting accordingly.
LeBron James will have a respectable game, but a poor night from Ray Allen and streakiness from Dwyane Wade will ultimately swing the pendulum in San Antonio's favor. By the final buzzer, the Spurs will have pulled off a stunning victory while Miami heads to the locker room, disappointed at its performance.
San Antonio Spurs 109, Miami Heat 104