SI.com’s NBA writers debate the biggest playoff question of the day. Today, we examine …
Which 2013 Finals participant has looked stronger in the 2014 playoffs: Miami Heat or San Antonio Spurs?
Chris Ballard: Spurs. Mainly because they've had a tougher road and look like a more complete team right now. Dallas was a nasty first-round opponent, and Portland was more like a three-seed than a five-seed. Tony Parker is playing at a high level, Manu Ginobili appears healthy (which is really the most important thing with him) and Tim Duncan is doing his usual Tim Duncan thing. Meanwhile, the Heat have been dominant but are relying an awful lot on LeBron James -- he's averaging almost as many points (30.1) as Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combined (31). Both teams are shooting a ridiculous percentage in this postseason -- 49.5 for SAS and 49.4 percent for MIA. But, again, in the Heat's case that's mainly because of James, who is shooting a surreal 57.7 percent. Which is to say that while both these teams are impressive so far, one looks like a team and the other a one-man team.
Phil Taylor: Spurs. It’s not Miami’s fault, but it’s hard to be overly impressed by the Heat because their competition has been so poor. They swept Charlotte in the first round, but the Bobcats couldn’t offer much resistance once Al Jefferson injured his foot in Game 1. It’s becoming apparent that the Nets are too old and flawed to test them, as well. The Spurs have had their lapses – their bench play has been inconsistent, for instance – and they were pushed to seven games by Dallas in the first round. But their first three games against Portland in the conference semis, in which they put on a ball-movement clinic on offense and took away the Blazers’ favorite options on defense, were the best sustained stretch that either the Heat or Spurs has played in the postseason.
Ben Golliver: Spurs. Really, take your pick. The Heat and Spurs just happen to be 1-2, respectively, in net rating in the playoffs. Miami boasts the postseason's No. 1 offense and No. 6 defense, while San Antonio runs No. 2 on offense and No. 4 on defense. Both have looked commanding against lesser opponents, even if both have also succumbed to the occasional off night or periods of flat play. To me, San Antonio's body of work is more impressive based largely on the strength of its opponents. Dallas and Portland finished the regular season with elite offenses, and San Antonio's ability to limit opposing stars (Dirk Nowitzki, LaMarcus Aldridge) while playing smart, disciplined team defense has put the Spurs one win from the Western Conference finals and gives them the nod over Miami. The Heat feel very much like a team that needs to be pushed, and the rest of the East looks like a group of teams that don't have that type of effort in them. The Spurs have been tested -- by the Mavericks, especially, and by the Blazers in Game 4 -- and they've proved to be a resilient, heady bunch.
Matt Dollinger: Spurs. The Spurs have impressed with their numbing efficiency. This is a team so good that I could dedicate the next few sentences to Patty Mills and Boris Diaw -- and they would be complimentary! While the Heat are counting on the same formula to produce a title for the third straight year (not a bad bet), the Spurs have evolved into a slightly better version of their former selves. They're younger, deeper and more balanced. There's no drastic difference in San Antonio because last year's product came within a few seconds of winning the title. Instead, Gregg Popovich's squad is slightly refined version of San Antonio's 2013 edition, and it just might be good enough to beat Miami's 2014.
Richard Deitsch: Heat. The question irks me because I really want to praise the Spurs. After fighting off Vince Carter and his headband, San Antonio has ruthlessly marginalized first-round heroes LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard and shredded Portland’s soft defense. No matter who emerges between the Clippers and Thunder, I think the Spurs are going to the Finals. But Miami is the choice here, even though the East is filled with paper tigers. First, the Heat never get credit for how tough they are on the road. They are 7-1 in the postseason, adding to their streak of winning at least one road game in 14 consecutive postseason series, an NBA record. They also don’t get enough credit for how often they clamp down on the opposing team’s main option. LeBron James’ late-game defense in Game 4 on Joe Johnson was tighter than the middle seat on a commercial flight. His 49-point eruption felt like a warning to the rest of the league in addition to a knockout blow to the Nets. Miami is going to get better from here. Just watch.
Chris Johnson: Spurs. That the Spurs needed seven games to get past the Mavericks in the first round might seem like a disqualifier, considering Miami beat its first-round foe, the Bobcats, in a tidy 4-0 sweep. But entertain this idea: The Spurs’ first-round tribulations make their postseason run even more impressive. How is this possible? Check the box scores. After dropping Game 6 in Dallas by two points, San Antonio won four consecutive games by an average of 19.75 points. Three of those wins came against a Blazers team led by an electric, high-scoring point guard that ranked fifth in offensive efficiency, the other against a Dallas team with a potent offense (No. 3) in its own right. The Spurs couldn’t finish off Portland in Game 4, but this series feels like it could be a Gentleman’s Sweep. Given the way San Antonio has dominated Portland, it seems possible something may have clicked. That’s a troubling thought for the teams standing in the Spurs' way the rest of the postseason.