Czar’s Finals Preview

Copyright 2012 NBAE - Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty

The 2014 NBA Finals kick off tonight in San Antonio and there will be something for everyone, from the NBA cognoscenti to the casual, Johnny-come-lately roundball fan.

This Finals rematch between the Spurs and the Heat is the first since 1998, when the Bulls topped the Jazz for their second threepeat.

This series features 17th-year Tim Duncan, possibly the greatest power forward of all time, against the current best player in the world LeBron James, possibly the greatest forward of all time.

A series win would give Duncan and coach Popovich five titles, equaling league royalty like Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant among others.

The Heat are participating in their fourh consecutive Finals and going for the illusive three-rings-in-a-row, not done since the Lakers’ triple championship run from 2000-2002. However, if the South Beach Big 3 come up short this year, massive speculation will be focused on the possible break-up of LeBron and company, as they all can become free agents this summer.

Miami Heat v New York KnicksThrow in the fact that San Antonio was just a few ticks away from taking Game 6 and the title last season before Ray Allen’s unbelievable 3-pointer saved Miami. It was possibly the closest a squad has come to winning the title and then having it ripped away in modern times. That ultra-disappointment and outcome has admittedly haunted Coach Pop and his players for the past 350 or so days.

With all of this layered-background and historical hoops significance, this year’s quest for a ring will come down to X’s & O’s, team and individual execution and poise. The Spurs have home-court this championship rematch courtesy of their league-best 62-20 regular season. Both sides finished a protective 32-9 on their respective courts, so ‘stealing’ a game on the road will be crucial, especially for Miami.

Some factors to consider about the Heat this series:  How many times will LeBron just take his game to a level no one else in the series can match? Will Dwyane Wade show extended flashes of ‘Flash’ and step up when James is overburdened? Who on the Heat’s 2014 production-weak bench will score, steal or board his way to significant floor time? Having lost a mere three post-season games thus far, how will Miami react if and when their backs are against the proverbial wall?

Some factors to consider about the Spurs this series:  First and foremost, how will Tony Parker’s sore left ankle affect his ability to break down Miami’s switching and swarming defense? 14X NBA All-Star Tim Duncan is 38 years old – will he be able to continue to elude Father Time and play extended, intense minutes this series? Will all the year-long hand-wringing and second guessing about last year’s Finals be more of a weight or motivation for the cerebral veterans on San Antonio?

The professional prognosticators are split as to who will take home the 2014 Larry O’Brien trophy. However, all agree that this series will be one for the ages.

Czar’s Finals Preview

WEB_NBA Finals Preview_4JUNE2014

Czar’s Finals Preview: Game 5

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

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

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.