For those that view the Miami Heat as insipid soldiers of fortune, one couldn't ask for better protectors of basketball's esprit de corps than the San Antonio Spurs. Occasionally, and erroneously, branded as a monotonous watch due to their unparalleled consistency, San Antonio is a lineup seemingly conjured from the doctrines of coach Norman Dale: "Five players on the floor functioning as one single unit—team, team, team—no one more important than the other."
It's a philosophy that contradicts the formation, actions and occasional proclamations emitting from South Beach.
|2013 NBA Finals|
|Matchup||Win %||Avg. PPG||WIS Interactive|
|San Antonio Spurs||39.2||100.2||Spurs" target="_blank">Simulate NBA Finals|
|Miami Heat||60.8||103.4||for FREE!|
The latter premise manifested itself before Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Dwyane Wade, the former franchise star who grudgingly bequeathed his throne to a certain King last season, had underwhelmed in the first six games of the Indiana series. Asked whether his injured knee was the cause of his play, Wade implied a lack of opportunities was the problem. No reading between the lines was necessary: Wade was no longer happy as the second banana. Detractors of the Heat could not be happier.
This schadenfreude would be fleeting, as Wade squashed talk of disharmony by submitting a gem in Game 7 with 21 points and nine boards in Miami's evisceration of the Pacers. Of course, having LeBron James didn't hurt the Heat's cause either. The four-time MVP made a concerted effort to get his dissatisfied teammates involved early and often while taking on the defensive assignment of Paul George, a taxing endeavor that some believed was over Wade's head.
Not only was James successful in shutting down Indiana's primary scorer to seven points, he also managed a "quiet" performance of 32 points, eight rebounds and four assists. James has been heralded as a paramount teammate, but rejuvenating an abating and disgruntled Wade might have been his most gallant feat yet.
Though there's certainly merit to the claim of strife among Miami's execution, it's a testament to their overall aptitude that possible dissonance couldn't impede their third consecutive trip to the Finals. Make no mistake, the present edition of the Heatles are not the same roster of just three months ago, the one that rolled off their historic 27-game winning streak.
Granted, the versatile and violent Chris "Birdman" Andersen has given the team a late-season boost off the bench, and second-year guard Norris Cole is developing into a solid complement on the defensive end. But Wade is nowhere near 100 percent and, mentally, Chris Bosh is way off the reservation. Even with these fallacies, with James performing at an echelon few have ever reached on the hardwood, Miami has a good chance to retain its championship belt.
Yet as transcendent as James' play has been, can it uphold the synergy of the Silver and Black? Famous for their collaboration, this might be Gregg Popovich's greatest concoction of reciprocal action in his storied career.
Obviously having the venerable Tim Duncan abets this venture. Despite turning 37 in April, Duncan remains a tour de force down low, averaging nearly 18 points and nine rebounds in the playoffs. More importantly, he's the foundation of a resistance that held the opposition to a meager 42.0 field-goal percentage from the floor in the postseason.
And we'd be remiss in failing to mention Tony Parker turning in the best campaign (23 points, 7.2 assists, 3.9 boards, 1.2 steals during the playoffs) since entering the league in 2001.
Parker's hurdle into the elite stratum of players has been one of the more under-reported chronicles in the Association this year—a shame since few are as entertaining and captivating with the rock than the 31-year-old. (Of course, San Antonio has a proclivity to fly under the radar, so perhaps we shouldn't find this startling.)
Although this duo fuels the engine for the Spurs, the supporting cast makes this fine-tuned machine purr. Various ailments have robbed Manu Ginobili of his celebrated quickness and mobility, yet his creativity endures, a skill that energizes San Antonio's second squad.
In just his second go-around in the playoffs, Kawhi Leonard has transformed into a vital component, chipping in 13 points and eight rebounds with sound defense. Contributions from Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw have eased the frontcourt burden on Duncan, with the three-point dexterity of Danny Green, Gary Neal and Matt Bonner giving Popovich the proper ammunition for his up-tempo offense.
They may lack the flash and dazzle of the Heat, but the Spurs can match their glamor on the scoreboard.
So who will raise the Larry O'Brien Trophy at the series' end? According to the award-winning WhatIfSports.com basketball simulation engine, the Heat come out on top 60.8 percent of the time, with the average scoring margin 103-100.
You can call the Heat a group of individuals or club that's ragged with discord. Just remember to add the title of "World Champions" to that catalog.