Dwayne Wade and the Heat are four wins away from their third straight title. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images)
SI.com’s NBA writers debate the biggest question of the day. Today, we examine …
Who will win the 2014 NBA Finals: Spurs or Heat?
Lee Jenkins: Heat in 6. I was initially leaning toward San Antonio in 7, but I'm spooked by Tony Parker's mysterious ankle injury, and I think it matters that Miami's playoff run has been so much easier. In my opinion, Dwyane Wade is the key to the series, and he is rested for the job. Offensively, the Heat have handled this post-season like two-time champs, but there is room for improvement on the other end. They will have to dial up their defense, to 2012 and '13 levels, in order to win again. LeBron James will find an extra gear on D. If Wade can do the same, I like the Heat to win again, proving that some teams are talented enough to flip that proverbial switch.
Phil Taylor: Spurs in 7. Miami is a great team that suffers but usually survives the occasional lapse. Chris Bosh disappears for a stretch, or even a game or two. The Mario Chalmers/Norris Cole combo sometimes looks in over its head. The resurrection of Rashard Lewis hardly feels like a permanent phenomenon. It's hard to see them surviving those sorts of lapses against a team as relentless as the Spurs. Yes, they were blown out twice in Oklahoma City when Serge Ibaka made his unexpected return, but Miami doesn't have an Ibaka impersonator anywhere on their roster. In fact, the Heat's interior defense is an area San Antonio can exploit. If Luis Scola of the Pacers can abuse Bosh on the low block -- which he often did -- what damage might Tim Duncan do? And, assuming Tony Parker's ankle is healthy, which Miami perimeter defender is going to keep him out of the paint? LeBron can't be everywhere. The Spurs are the slight favorite because they're more likely to be consistently at the top of their game than Miami is. Also, even though extra motivation concept is mostly sports movie myth, Duncan's "this time we're going to do it," declaration is hard to dismiss. When a team as skilled and precise as the Spurs also turns up the passion, it's hard to bet against them, especially in a Game 7 at home.
Ben Golliver: Spurs in 6. For all intents and purposes, the Spurs and Heat were equals last year. While San Antonio has seen a number of key players improve this season -- Manu Ginobili has bounced back, Kawhi Leonard continues to grow, Tiago Splitter is better, Boris Diaw is playing the best ball of his life -- a Miami team that lost Mike Miller and hasn't gotten much from Greg Oden or Michael Beasley seems to have taken a half-step backwards this season. Couple the Spurs' relative progress with their home-court advantage, and I agree with the oddsmakers who have tabbed San Antonio as a slight favorite.
The Spurs' depth gives them a greater margin for error, and their chemistry on both ends right now is second-to-none. Importantly, San Antonio has been playing against high level competition for the last few weeks, while Miami will likely face an adjustment period after playing a depressed Eastern Conference and an offensively-deficient Indiana team. I like the Spurs to exact revenge for 2013 and I think they will, poetically, get it done in Game 6 this time around.
Rob Mahoney: Spurs in 6. With all the room for give and take in this series, my determination came down to which team was better equipped to adapt as needed. I just don't quite trust the Heat to contort their way to four wins -- they're slightly too reliant on LeBron, notably shakier as a collective defense, flimsy on the back end of their rotation and dealing with an opponent disciplined enough to force compromises. Parker's ankle injury does complicate matters, though San Antonio is uniquely capable of stabilizing even when its lead guard is hampered. Case in point: The 2012 Finals, which wound up a virtual draw even as Parker battled through a nagging hamstring injury.
Expect these upcoming Finals to tilt more towards San Antonio. We're in for a highly competitive series all the same between two talented, well-coached teams. I just see too many distinct facets of this series working in the Spurs' favor to pick otherwise.
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Matt Dollinger: Spurs in 7.The Spurs came within 5.2 seconds of a title last year -- they won't let it slip through their hands again this season. Rarely do spurned teams get an opportunity so ripe for revenge as this one. San Antonio has spent the last 12 months preparing for another trip to the Finals and will have to cap its comeback story against the team that started it, but the Spurs' improvements outnumbers the Heat's since last year. They've deepened their bench, gotten more athletic and even less reliant on their Big Three -- the same can't be said for their counterparts. While San Antonio has the versatility and depth to matchup with any lineup Miami throws its way, the Heat will struggle to defend the Spurs' bigger lineups. Gregg Popovich will bust out all the stops and San Antonio -- fueled by homecourt advantage this time around -- will get the best of Miami in another seven-game epic.
Chris Johnson: Heat in 6. The Spurs were one Ray Allen corner three away from beating Miami in last year’s Finals. Allen won’t need to rescue his team this time around. The Heat’s aggressive defense will disrupt San Antonio’s ball movement and their small-ball lineups will trouble the Spurs defensively; Dwyane Wade will summon his best performance of the season; and LeBron James will do LeBron James things. That last point is the most important one. It’s well established that James is the best player in the league. In these playoffs, though, only rarely have we seen James go full-bore. His 49-point performance in Game 4 of the conference semifinals stands out. Against San Antonio, James will be in attack mode from the start of Game 1. The Spurs two-way quality will demand that James play his best basketball of the postseason, and it’d be silly to think he won’t rise to the occasion. San Antonio may look better equipped to win a championship than it did a year ago, but James will ensure it falls short again. I’ll wait for someone to beat the Heat before I pick against them.
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