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NBA Finals Fever

   by Jim Feist - 06/04/2013

Heat/Spurs! Lebron versus Duncan! The last two years were supposed to be the year the kids stepped up in Miami and Oklahoma City and start a new era in the NBA Finals. Well, Miami came close in 2011, carving out a 2-1 series lead before collapsing, but it was those old fogies in Dallas who came away with the title - another veteran team winning the whole thing. Last year Oklahoma City stepped into that role, winning Game 1 of the Finals…then the more experienced Heat smoked them the next four games to win LeBron's first title.
The truth is, veteran NBA teams have been on a roll. The Spurs won it all in 2007, the Celtics in 2008, the Lakers in 2009-10, the old Mavericks in a surprising 2011 run before Dwyane Wade grabbed his second ring alongside LeBron. King James is now 28 and a 10-year NBA veteran. So much for the youth movement in the Finals!
Last year the young Thunder certainly looked lost and overwhelmed as the Heat ran circles around them. While the NBA is more of an athletic game, primed for young legs, the experience of the 2011 Mavericks and 2012 Heat certainly helped them.
At some point age can work against a team, breaking down from injuries like the Celtics and Lakers. This postseason the Final Four found a pair of young teams (Grizzlies, Pacers) against the veterans (Spurs, Heat). The Spurs copied the Celtics strategy the last few years by taking the final month of the regular season off to get healthy.
There really haven't been many youthful teams winning the NBA title lately. The Celtics and Lakers were veteran teams that clashed in the Finals in 2008 and 2010. The experienced Lakers topped the young Orlando Magic in 2009, blowing out the kids in Game 1, 100-75. Prior to that veteran teams like the Spurs, Pistons and 2006 Miami Heat won titles.
Ahh, the Miami Heat. They really aren't that youthful, with LeBron James the only kid at age 28. He's also been in the NBA Finals in 2007 with Cleveland. Wade (age 31) already has a ring with the 2006 Heat, a veteran team that also had Shaq, Antoine Walker and Gary Payton.
One thing that stands out with the NBA's Final Four of 2013 is defense, something that is always valuable this time of the year. The Grizzlies were No. 1 during the regular season in points allowed, the Spurs 11th, the Heat ranked 5th while the Pacers were tops in the NBA in field goal shooting defense from the field AND from three-point land.
This shouldn't surprise. A year ago Miami was 4th in the NBA in points allowed and 5th in field goal shooting defense. Two years ago they were sixth in points allowed during the regular season, eventual champion Dallas was 10th; Miami was second in field goal defense (.434%), while Dallas was 8th (.450%).
The Western Conference Finals the last two years have been a terrific clash of Youth vs. Experience. Last year Oklahoma City had 23-year old 6-10 Kevin Durant (27.9 ppg, 8 rpg), 23-year old Russell Westbrook (23.7 ppg), 22-year old James Harden, Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka.
Memphis this season had 28-year old Marc Gasol and 25-year old Mike Conley leading the way, teamed with a pair of 31-year olds (Zach Randolph and Tony Allen). Their opponent each time was San Antonio, the NBA version of Methuselah: 37-year old Tim Duncan (17.8 ppg, 9.9 rpg), 35-year old Manu Ginobili (11.8 ppg) and 30-year old Tony Parker (20.3 ppg). All battled injuries much of the year. Although the Spurs rely heavily on their deep bench, which led the league in scoring for the fourth straight season, with Danny Green (10.5 ppg), Stephen Jackson, and role players in 7-foot Matt Bonner, 6-11 Tiago Splitter, Kawhi Leonard and Gary Neal.
So how did San Antonio do against the Best of the East? They lost at Miami (105-100) and at home (88-86), and won at Indiana (104-97) and at home over the Pacers (101-79). Don't read too much into the two games against Miami, as the Spurs rested 4 starters in the first meeting and Miami was without LeBron, Wade and Mario Chalmers (all out with injuries) in the rematch. Some trends to keep in mind: The Spurs are 8-17 ATS against a team with a winning percentage above .600 and 6-14 ATS playing on one day's rest. The Heat is 17-5 ATS on the road against a team with a winning home record. And for totals players the under is 12-3 for San Antonio on the road, Miami is 9-1-1 over the total on one day's rest. Let the games begin!

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