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3-on-3: The NBA Finals Edition – Will Lebron Get His Revenge?

The San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat have finally arrived to the 2013 NBA Finals, taking their own unique paths to get here. San Antonio played only 4 games in the Western Conference Finals, sweeping the feisty Memphis Grizzlies and have been on leave for a week and a half. Meanwhile, the Heat grinded there way through seven hard fought matchups against a strong, stern Indiana Pacers team, a series that ended just three nights ago. Nevertheless, both teams utilized their strengths to achieve the 12 wins needed to get to this point, with just four more wins to go. Abdullah Sharif, Shaun Ahmad, and one of newest writers, Zain Zaidi are set to give us their spiel as Hoop District’s countdown to Game 1 starts in this special NBA Finals edition of 3-on-3.

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Lebron James has claimed to be seeking revenge against the Spurs for his loss against them in the 2007 Finals when he was with the Cavs. What does he need to focus on to succeed this time around? How do the Spurs need to gameplan in order to counter LBJ’s vengeance?

Shaun: LeBron will have to emulate his game 7 performance against the Indiana Pacers throughout this series for the Miami Heat to succeed.  The involvement of co-stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will be critical for their overall success.  If LeBron can keep the supporting cast involved through the first three quarters, it will make things much easier when he has to, undoubtedly, take the reins in the fourth.  What has to be frustrating for James is the fact that his gameplan to attack San Antonio isn’t that much different than it was in 2007 when he was with Cleveland.

On the flipside, if the Spurs can take away everyone else except for LeBron and leave him in a predicament of trying to carry the team on his shoulders, they will set themselves up for a great chance of winning a fifth championship.  Greg Popovich is the mastermind of gameplans and in game adjustments (see: Marc Gasol & Zach Randolph).  The approach has to be to let Miami try to win using LeBron and LeBron only.     

Zain: Do I think Lebron is salivating at the chance for revenge against the Spurs? Ehhhh. Sure. Do I think the media is overplaying that factor? Of course I do. I think it’s a combination of both but I think proving all of his doubters wrong (yes there are still some out there, including myself), is more in play than the actual opposition. That was a long time ago, and it was the beginning of the exposure of an offensively one-dimensional LeBron James.

Although James has vastly improved since then, I am still incorporating some of the same concepts if I am Gregg Poppovich. Going under screens, dropping guys back in the paint and making him shoot jumpers. LBJ hit the midrange at approximately 46% this season, which will backfire on the Spurs eventually, but do you know his percentage when he gets near the hoop? Over 70 percent. I’ll take the former.

Abdullah: If vengeance is indeed on LeBron’s mind as he prepares for the team that swept him six years ago, then San Antonio is bound for a great predicament because a lot has changed since then. One of the most fearsome things in basketball today is an unleashed, pissed off LBJ on full beast mode. He’s no longer that superstar 75 percenter that tucks himself away in crunch time and in the 4th quarter. For LeBron to successfully get his revenge, he simply has to continue utilizing the assets around him. Miami’s bread and butter all season long has been LeBron’s attack at the rim and his ability to make the right play when defenses to close in on him, whether that play is powerhousing himself to the rim, or finding an outlet to an open man on the perimeter. As for the Spurs, much like the Pacers they have some ample size down low which will surely cause problems for LeBron at the rim. The key for San Antonio is their ability to handle everyone else not numbered “6” and force LeBron into the role of a sole catalyst by cutting off his passing lanes, efficiently closing out on Miami’s perimeter shooters and hoping that LeBron misses a few jump shots.

Who/what is the X-factor for both teams?

Shaun: Miami:  The Bench – If Ray Allen, Shane Battier, and Norris Cole are no-shows, there is no chance Miami repeats as champions.  Wade isn’t getting younger and a seven game series against Indiana will affect him against San Antonio.  The bench must provide valuable minutes.

San Antonio:  Kawhi Leonard has stepped his game up in the postseason by averaging 13ppg on 57% shooting to go with 8 boards.  Stopping James from scoring is impossible, but if Leonard can disrupt his rhythm enough to keep him from getting teammates involved, he will have done more than was ever expected of him in his second year.

Zain: If we’re talking about players, I’m going with Chalmers for the Heat and Gary Neal for the Spurs. In the Indiana series, Chalmers really stepped up in possessions when Lebron James wasn’t on the court, continually driving past George Hill for layups. Those baskets kept it close for Miami until Lebron could come back and facilitate the offense. Chalmers has to offset the production that Tony Parker is bound to put up on him and the Heat.

As for Gary Neal, he is the guy off the bench who can create his shot when the offense gets stagnant (besides Manu Ginobli). The X-factor for both teams is going to be rebounding. San Antonio has the half-court execution and 3-point shooters to beat Miami, but letting Miami control the glass somehow can negate a lot of what they do positively.

Abdullah: The X-factor for Miami is clearly their role players and bench. The Heat have proven to be effective and successful even when LeBron, Wade or Chris Bosh are having a setback. We’ve seen different players step up and produce very positively for the Heat all playoffs long this year. Guys like Shane Battier who can consistently knock down a corner 3, Udonis Haslem who’s nearly perfected that Kurt Thomas-esque baseline 15-footer, Chris Andersen who is always in position to give Miami a second-chance opportunity, and even a sporadically used Mike Miller all give Miami a critical advantage when their stars are on the bench or ineffective.

For San Antonio, it’s gotta be the guy defending the best player on the floor and for the most part that means Kawhi Leonard. Leonard’s work is definitely cut out for him having to guard LeBron James, but if he can contain LeBron just enough to force him out of his realm of dominance, it could provide San Antonio several opportunities to take over. I trust Gregg Poppovich more than any coach in the NBA in terms of preparation and gameplanning and if you combine that with Leonard’s defensive tenacity, special things could develop for the Spurs in these Finals.   

Who wins and in how many games?

Shaun: Miami in 7.  This series will go back and forth in all aspects – game style, series momentum, bench performances, and coaching.  The matchup will end up like a 12 round championship boxing fight.  Greg Poppovich is the mastermind of gameplans and in-game adjustments.  However, the combination of James and Wade will be too much in game seven for San Antonio to overcome.  As mediocre (I’m being generous) as the Miami Heat crowd is, Wade and the bench seem to thrive off of them and play their best.  Miami will do just enough to put them over the top and repeat as world champions. 

Zain: Spurs in 7. This is more of a bold prediction than a reasonable one in my opinion. I think Poppovich knew that Miami would prevail, giving him more time to game-plan for the Heat, specifically LeBron James. He has the decided coaching advantage, and has a great scheme on both sides of the court that should take away easy possessions for Miami, while supplying themselves some easy buckets on the other end.  The Spurs have the Heat’s weaknesses, strength inside and a speedy point guard. They also have the depth and offensive punch that the Pacers failed to utilize when they had Miami on the ropes at times. I realize that I’ve said everything to make the prediction of the Spurs sound more reasonable than bold, but Miami has something that the Spurs don’t: the best player on the court and in the world in LeBron James. The Spurs don’t have a young and dominant athlete to match his occasional superpowers. If LeBron can consistently show off his improved jumper, this ends quick. Let’s see if LeBron can “go Anton Chigurh” and show San Antonio that the NBA Finals is No Country for Old Men.

Abdullah: Heat in 7. Folks who know me are very aware of my disdain for the Miami Heat and can imagine the toughness of making this prediction. Anyway, San Antonio is surely the biggest test Miami will face in these 2013 playoffs. The matchups are very close in just about every category, except for that two key elements: superstardom and pace. Miami’s great advantage is obviously the best player in the world wearing their uniform, but many of the Heat’s weaknesses are exploited when the game is not played at their uptempo pace. This is something that Indiana proved in the ECF when they were able to execute at slower tempo and forced Miami’s half-court offense to malfunction several times. But I feel Miami has too much ammo for the Spurs to counter and as Shaun mentioned in his answer above, that final half of game 7 on Biscayne Blvd. will be just enough for Miami to overcome San Antonio’s prowess and ultimately repeat.

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