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by Larry Ness - 06/05/2013
NBA Playoff Journal (Finals Preview)
The Spurs made short work of the Grizzlies in the West Finals, sweeping that series 4-0. San Antonio’s series-clinching Game 4 win came way back on May 27, so when the Spurs take the court on Thursday in Miami, the team will have had NINE full days between games. Meanwhile, the Heat were extended to seven games by the Pacers in the East Finals, finally putting Indiana away with a 99-76 win this past Monday night. Miami used a 33-16 second quarter to break open the game and led by as many as 28 points in the second half. LBJ finished with 32-8-4 and “took a seat” with just over five minutes left in the contest. Wade ended a 12-game stretch of not reaching 20 points by scoring 21, plus added nine rebounds.
Home teams were 7-4 SU in the conference finals (5-6 ATS), while seven of the 11 went over (although the last three went under) and those following the Zig Zag theory went an impressive 7-2 (note: no team team was able to win back-to-back games in the Ind/Mia series). 2013 postseason to-date numbers show home teams 49-29 SU (.628) but just 37-41 ATS (47.4%), which is minus-8.1 net games. There have been 37 overs, 39 unders and two pushes, while “Zig-Zaggers” are 34-30 (that’s plus-one net game).
ABC covers the NBA Finals and Game 1 is set for 9:00 ET on Thursday. The Heat opened 3-to-1 favorites to win the title but that series price has dropped to about minus-$2.20. The Heat are favored by 5 1/2 points in Game 1 (some fives were available as of 3:00 ET on Wednesday), with a total of 188 1/2. The Heat had the NBA’s best regular season record at 66-16 and the Spurs finished with the league’s third-best record (58-24). So as I noted in my 2013 Playoff Preview (available in the archives), we once again will not have a NBA ‘dark horse’ champion.
Bird and Magic entered the NBA for the start of the 1979-80 season, rejuvenating what was a 'dying' league. Here's what a check of the history books tell us. Of the 33 championship teams since that 1979-80 season, 15 have been teams which finished the regular season with the best regular season record (or tied for the best record). Nine champs have been teams which finished with its second-best mark and four others with its third-best record. Either the Heat will make it 16 teams with the league’s best record or the Spurs will become the fifth NBA champion in the last 34 years to win the title with the league’s third-best mark. Either way, that leaves just FIVE champions from outside the top-three regular season records over the last 34 seasons (or just 14.7 percent).
However, I will note that the last team to win the NBA title after finishing the regular season with the league's best record was the 2008 Celtics. Will the top-seeded Heat break that four-year drought by winning back-to-back titles? Or, will the Spurs add a fifth title to the ones they won in 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007? The Spurs are more rested and have had the easier road to the Finals. San Antonio is 12-2 SU this postseason and 10-4 ATS. As for the Heat, they are 12-4 this postseason but a more modest 9-7 ATS.
The Spurs are an impressive 6-1 SU and ATS on the road this postseason, while the Heat are 7-2 SU at home, going a poor 4-5 ATS. Those are significant numbers because under the 2-3-2 format, it’s likely that the Spurs will need to win at least two games in Miami to capture this year’s title. One can’t expect that the Spurs will be able to win Games 3, 4 and 5, which will all be played in San Antonio. After all, the Heat were the NBA’s best road team this past regular season (29-12) and have gone 5-2 SU on the road this postseason. Let’s also note that the last time the Heat lost consecutive games (anywhere), was back on January 8th and 10th.
I don’t make series predictions, as I believe it interferes with my game-to-game selections, so I won’t start now. However, this series has more than a few historical consequences. Starting with the Heat, they have made it clear that they want to go down as one of the great teams of all time and they know that to do that it means hanging banners (that’s plural). LBJ knows that at the end of his career for him to be ranked among the all time greats he needs rings. You know the refrain, “Not one, not two, not three….” A win here and it’s back-to-back tiles for “King James” but a loss would mean he’d fall to 1-3 in his career in NBA Finals (not the resume of a ‘king’). Let’s not forget Wade, who would earn a third ring with a title in 2013.
Moving to the Spurs, the “Big 3” of Duncan, Ginobili and Parker” would earn their fourth rings with a win over the Heat and Duncan would have five all-time rings (pretty exclusive company). Then there’s San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich. He’s third all-time in postseason wins (130-79, .622), trailing only Pat Riley (171-111, .606) and Phil Jackson (229-104, .688). Jackson’s record of 11 NBA titles seems “unbreakable” (Red had nine with the Russell-led Celtics) but a San Antonio win would give “Pop” five NBA titles (a HUGE deal), putting him in a tie with Pat Riley (four with the Lakers plus one with the Heat) and John Kundla, who led the Minneapolis Lakers to five NBA titles in a six-year stretch from 1949-54 with the help of George Mikan.
Popovich is deservedly considered the NBA’s best active coach but if the Heat win, Erik Spoelstra will join a very exclusive list of NBA head coaches with more than one title. The first NBA title was won back in 1947 by the Philadelphia Warriors (Joe Fulks was the star, leading the NBA in scoring that year at 23.2 PPG) and their coach was Ed Gottlieb. He never won a second title and few head coaches have. Phil lead with 11, Red with nine, Kundla and “Riles” have five and “Pop” has four. Just SEVEN other head coaches have won two NBA titles, Chuck Daly, Alex Hannum, Tom Heinsohn, Red Holzman, K. C. Jones, Bill Russell and Rudy Tomjanovich. A Miami win this year puts Spoelstra in some very select company and he’s only 42 years-old!
My next Playoff Journal will be available Sunday at 12 noon ET.