Czar’s Finals Preview

Czar’s Finals Preview: Game 5

Sunday, June 16th, 2013

Copyright 2013 NBAE - Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty ImagesWith the 2013 Finals knotted at two games apiece, tonight’s Game 5 in San Antonio is pivotal for both sides.

After a surprisingly lackluster showing in Game 3, Miami came out firing on all cylinders in their 109-93 victory in Game 4 on Thursday night. The Heat’s Big 3 combined for 85 points on 37 of 64 shooting.

Most importantly, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who submitted sub-par performances over the first three games, came out determined and aggressive. Bosh pulled down 13 boards, and Wade’s stat line read 32 points, 6 boards, 4 dimes and 6 steals. As a team Miami shot 53% and outrebounded the bigger Spurs by 5.

Prior to tip-off on Thursday, most pundits were wondering about the health and effectiveness of Wade and Bosh. However, that storyline has since switched benches. Tony Parker’s hamstring and Manu Ginobili’s lack of production have gone under the microscope of speculation heading into the fifth 48.

Parker stated that his hamstring could tear at any time and that if this were the regular season he would take 10 days off to rest it. Manu is averaging only 7.5 ppg in the series and shooting a woeful 34.5%. On Thursday his +/- was -22, and at times he seemed out of the flow and a step slow.

Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE - Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty ImagesThe pattern that’s emerged in this seesaw series would have the Spurs winning comfortably tonight. Except for Game 1, the contests ended with lopsided 19, 36 and 16-point differentials.

In fact, the Spurs need this game more than Miami. Losing would put them in the almost impossible position of having to win the last two games in South Beach.

However, when the Heat’s Big 3 are functioning at full capacity they can be downright scary, and Game 4 was not a good sign for San Antonio. Coach Popovich will need his veteran Big 3 to play well in addition to getting solid contributions from Green and Leonard.

San Antonio must show Miami that Parker is effective and only partially limited and get a breakthrough game from Ginobili, because even with a Black & Silver victory tonight they still have to win one in Miami.

27 times the NBA Finals have been tied at 2-2, and the winner of Game 5 went on to win the title 20 times.

Expect both teams to come out ready to do battle tonight, with the Spurs fueled by a mix of hunger and desperation. After all, this could be the last time SA’s Big 3 play together in front of their home crowd.

Czar’s Finals Preview

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

Copyright NBAE 2012 - Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty ImagesThe 2013 NBA Finals kick off in Miami tonight, and as is the case in most championship rounds there are plots on top of subplots and buried storylines soon to be unearthed in the hot glow of the Ring Round.

The Heat and Spurs are worthy adversaries. Both are veteran teams that have been infused with a little bit of youth in key positions. Both have deep rosters with several stars and experienced guys coming off the bench. Both possess players who have competed in a number of important playoff games during their careers. Both boast excellent 3-point shooting capabilities. And both teams are led by outstanding coaches.

The Heat beat the Spurs twice this season, but how these teams performed in their two regular season meetings doesn’t carry much weight. Pop sent his core of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker Manu Ginobili and Danny Green back home to rest after a rough six-game road trip prior to the first game in Miami. And Spoelstra sat LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers in their second matchup.

A concern for the Spurs is that their almost 10-day layoff after sweeping Memphis in the WCF could hinder their performance in the finals – rest vs. rust.  It also remains to be seen how the Heat will hold up physically after a grueling 7-gamer against Indiana in the ECF.

Copyright 2013 NBAE - Photos by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty ImagesWill these Finals be remembered as one of the best? After all, many hoops heads have both Tim Duncan and LeBron James on their all-time NBA starting five. One would have to go back to Magic vs. Larry and Michael vs. Magic to equal the historical mano-a-mano accomplishments of Duncan and James.

Wade and Bosh, Parker and Ginobili – which duo will come through when it really counts? We know that Wade has a bum knee and that Bosh twisted his ankle in the ECF. Can both or either of them produce at their career averages, or will they continue to struggle? Has Tony Parker elevated his game and gone from star to superstar this postpeason? Is Parker the second best player in this series?

Will second-year wingman Kawhi Leonard be able to slow LeBron down even a little? Which supporting cast will rise to the occasion? Will the inside presence of 6’11” Tiago Splitter and Duncan give the Heat the same kind of headaches that Indy’s bigs did in the last round?

A fifth ring could cement Coach Gregg Popovich’s (the longest tenured coach in both the NBA and all four big sports leagues) status as one of the all-time top 5 coaches in the league? How impressive would it be if San Antonio were to win the 2013 title 14 years after winning their first one with Pop?!

How will the fact that Miami has played so much heavily scrutinized basketball the past 30 months (3 straight Finals) affect them mentally and physically? And finally, is the world about to bear witness to the best basketball that 28-year-old, 10th-year 4X MVP LeBron James has ever played?

All the answers will be revealed over the next two weeks in what has the makings of a historic NBA Finals. San Antonio Spurs vs. Miami Heat Game 1 will get underway at 9:00 PM ET on ABC.

Czar’s Finals Preview: Thunder vs. Heat Game 5

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

When the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder take the court tonight in Game 5 of the 2012 NBA Finals the basketball world will be paying special attention to one player: 27-year-old LeBron Raymone James.

No one has ever measured the true tonnage of “the weight of the world,” but with a Heat victory this evening, The King’s ample shoulders will be that much lighter.

After all, in his ninth pro season, in his third trip to the finals, on his second team, with his legions of critics and detractors ready to pounce at his slightest, magnified misstep, 3X MVP LBJ might finally grab the championship ring that has eluded him up until now and silence the haters, at least temporarily.

However, the young, supremely-talented Thunder could extend this best-of-seven and get back to the friendly confines of their home court in the Sooner State, down 3-2.

After winning the opening game in OKC, the Thunder lost the last three games by 4, 6 and 6 points respectively. And they’ve been in each contest up until the final moments. A different decision here, a made shot there, a tiny adjustment in a play and OKC could easily be leading this series.

In Game 4 on Tuesday night, Thunder PG Russell Westbrook scored 43 points on 20 of 32 from the field in possibly his best game as a professional. Smothered by the Heat’s tenacious D, 3X NBA scoring champ Kevin Durant put up 28 in 46 minutes. But it wasn’t enough as Miami got 26 from James and 25 apiece from D-Wade and Mario Chalmers.

The Heat shot 10-26 from behind the 3, while OKC went 3-16 from deep. Both teams took care of the rock, as the Thunder had 11 turnovers and Miami just 9. James had to leave the game in the last couple of minutes with leg cramps and dehydration. His teammates carried him to the bench and then made some monster plays down the stretch to seal the W.

Since the NBA went to a 2-3-2 finals format in 1985, no team has ever come back to win the title after being down 3-1. But as many roundball pundits and commentators have pointed out, this Thunder roster has already broken the mold when it comes to championship-caliber formulations. Their four top players, Durant, Westbrook, Harden and Ibaka, are ages 23, 23, 22 and 22. So while they lack much of the seasoning and experience of past champs, they make up for it in talent, tenacity and on-court bravado.

Look for a classic 48 minutes tonight in South Beach as the Heat try to finish off the Thunder and claim the 2012 crown for King James.

Czar’s Finals Preview: Heat vs. Thunder

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

The 2012 NBA Finals will showcase two of the most athletic, exciting and talented teams in the league: the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat.

Both squads possess superstars and scoring champions who are capable of outstanding ball movement and lethal transition games.

Though this would normally be a recipe for a high-scoring, up-and-down affair, it may not be the case in this series because both rosters boast tenacious defenders who have the ability to shut down their opponents at the defensive end of the floor. Every possession will be crucial, and turnovers will be costly.

There are a lot of similarities between the Heat and the Thunder. Both sides have at least two players who are capable of exploding and going off for 40 points in a game if they get hot.

Both teams also feature Big Threes: Miami has 2012 NBA MVP James, 8X All-Star Dwyane Wade and 7X All-Star Chris Bosh, while OKC has 3X NBA scoring champ Kevin Durant, 2X All-Star Russell Westbrook and 2012 Sixth MOTY James Harden. Amazingly, the members of the Thunder’s triumvirate are all 23 years old or younger.

There is tremendous depth on each bench. Coach Scott Brooks, who is making his first trip to the finals in just his third full season as head coach, will probably go deeper into his reserves than Miami, considering coach Spoelstra went predominantly with six players against Boston in Game 7 of the ECF when the season was on the line.

Oklahoma City is capable of playing very big or playing small and fast. However, Miami has not really played big all season, though they have the option to go with Chris Bosh at the 4 along with one of their seldom-used centers such as the shot-blocking Joel Anthony at the 5 and LeBron at the 3.

We may see more small ball in this series than we have seen in previous championships as the key players on both teams are perimeter-oriented with amazing quickness, which often makes lumbering, big men ineffectual.

The number one concern when going up against the Heat is transition defense. The Thunder have to get back and be compact so that LeBron James and Dwyane Wade don’t score easy baskets in transition.

As for defending the Thunder, Miami will also have to limit their transition game because they run so hard and so fast. And they must shut down the league’s most prolific scorer Kevin Durant. Spoelstra has to decide how to match up against him, whether with consistent double teams or staggered weak-side help.

The format changes to 2-3-2 in the finals, so capturing the first two home games will be critical for the Thunder because they don’t want to give the Heat a split with a chance to win three straight at home. The Heat and Thunder played twice in the abbreviated regular season, each winning on its home court.

OKC has one of the best crowds in the NBA, if not the best. And Miami’s fans were perhaps the most vocal they’ve been all year in Game 7 versus the Boston Celtics. It will be paramount for both squads to try to take away the opposing crowd’s energy and impact by limiting scoring runs and establishing road leads.

The global hoops audience will be watching the 2012 NBA Finals to see whether LeBron will clinch the title in his third finals appearance, or If the young Thunder are on the verge of a dynasty.

Czar’s NBA Finals Wrap-up: 2011 Champion Dallas Mavericks

Monday, June 13th, 2011

Congratulations all around to the Dallas Mavericks organization, coaching staff, players and fans on winning their first NBA Title. This tremendous accomplishment has been over a decade in the making for Mark Cuban and longtime face of the franchise Dirk Nowitzki. It was a hard-fought series, but the Mavs closed it out and capped off an amazing postseason run thanks to a total team effort.

The 2011 NBA Championship was one of the most thrilling six-game series in recent memory. Dallas probably surprised a lot of people when they went down to South Florida and beat the Heat on their home court in elimination Game 6. The talented Miami team played extremely well at home during the playoffs, and most expected them to force a Game 7.

But Dallas came out with energy, confidence and focus. DeShawn Stevenson got the Mavericks going with a few big threes early in the game. Jason Terry stepped up again and dealt out another great performance. Jason Kidd, Brian Cardinal, J.J. Barea and Tyson Chandler all contributed at key moments. And though Nowitzki struggled during the first half, he delivered down the stretch to help clinch the series. Dirk’s incredible display throughout the tournament earned him the Finals MVP award, a cherry on top of the Title that had thus far eluded him.

For Miami, falling short in the last round was a disappointing end to a pressure-packed season. Even though the Game 6 loss will leave a bitter taste in their mouths all summer, the fact that the Heat still have a young nucleus of gifted stars should be somewhat of a consolation. As many former champions have stated, you must first taste defeat to understand what it takes to win and to savor the victory. The Heat’s experience in the NBA Finals will serve as a building block towards becoming future champions. Just as the Mavericks grew from their defeat in the 2006 Finals, the Heat will learn from the pain of losing and return next season better and stronger as a result.