The saga of LeBron James and the Miami Heat adds a new chapter this month.
On Thursday, 6 June, the squad faces Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs in Game One of the NBA Finals. ABC hosts the action from 8pm Cayman time. Miami booked their place on Monday with a dominant Game Seven performance against the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Spurs have been resting since sweeping the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference Finals.
Many residents in the Cayman Islands have been caught up in the excitement around the NBA playoffs. Among them has been Mark Gaus, who hails from South Florida. Gaus said a repeat title for the Heat is in the offing.
“Growing up in Fort Lauderdale, just 30 minutes from Miami, the Heat were the go-to team for me,” Gaus said. “Basketball has always been my favourite sport as I played for my high school, Westminster Academy, as well as city and church leagues. My favourite player always has been and always will be LeBron James.
“I still remember where I was when I heard ‘The Decision’ when he told the world he would take his talents to South Beach. My father is from Cleveland, Ohio, so naturally I would cheer for Miami, Florida and Ohio teams, so LeBron is always someone who I looked up to even when he played for the Cleveland Cavaliers. James is an individual of strong character, never in trouble on or off the court.
“I am confident that the Heat will beat the Spurs in the Finals in no more than six games. I am not taking anything away from the Spurs, they have built an excellent team who have already won many championships together.
“I say all this knowing that their ‘Big Three’ are aging, they are not as young, fast or strong as the Heats’ Big Three. I also feel the Heat will set the tone in their favour in the first two games as they have home court advantage.”
Game Two of the Finals is scheduled for this Sunday, 9 June, at 7pm on ABC. Games three and four, which are next Tuesday and Thursday, are in San Antonio along with Game Five, if necessary, next Sunday.
For resident Patrick Brendel, a proud Texan, his allegiance to the Spurs is unwavering.
“I grew up cheering for the Spurs and Houston Rockets through the 1980s and 1990s,” Brendel said. “San Antonio and Houston each is about 100 miles from my hometown. I started paying more attention to the NBA after the demise of my beloved Houston Oilers NFL team in 1996. I’ve been a Spurs-first fan since the organisation lucked into Tim Duncan, the greatest power forward of all time.
“My favourite player is Manu Ginobili. While Ginobili can’t physically do the things he used to do on the court, he’s the straw that stirs the drink. He’s fearless, unselfish and unpredictable.
“This Heat-Spurs match up has seemed likely ever since the season-ending injury to the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook. It’s about time Miami took care of business against their L-eastern Conference foes. I, for one, welcome this rematch of Spurs versus LeBron and I am hoping for an identical outcome to 2007.”
Miami are making their third straight finals appearance and looking for their third title in franchise history, with the first coming under Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal in 2006. San Antonio have quietly racked up four championships in the Duncan era, with the last being in 2007.
While the focus is on the play of LeBron, Wade and Chris Bosh for Miami and Duncan, Ginobili and Tony Parker for the Spurs, both sides feature great depth. Among the names who have had tongues wagging are Ray Allen of Miami and Kawhi Leonard of San Antonio.
Gaus said several role players could be huge in the series.
“In regards to the key players in this series for both teams, everyone will mention each teams’ Big Three. However, I believe it will be the supporting cast which will really help seal the deal. For the Heat, that is Ray, Udonis Haslem and Chris ‘Bird Man’ Andersen, for the Spurs it would be Tiago Splitter and Matt Bonner, who are both players who play big which could give the Heat trouble.
“I also must note the coaches for both teams, Erik Spoelstra and Gregg Popovich, as well as their overall organisations, will need their Championship DNA to show. These teams were built to win and only time will tell who will be the 2012-2013 NBA Champions.”
Aside from the conference finals, both Miami and San Antonio have played like the two best teams this postseason. The Heat brushed aside Brandon Jennings’ Milwaukee Bucks in the first round before handling Joakim Noah’s Chicago Bulls. San Antonio went from sweeping Dwight Howard’s Los Angeles Lakers to enduring Stephen Curry’s Golden State Warriors.
While Brendel is rooting hard for the Spurs, he admits Miami have looked good on paper and in the playoffs.
“I think the Heat tend to play down or up to the level of their opponent. If the Heat perform like they did against the Pacers, then San Antonio fans will be bringing brooms to the AT&T Centre for Game Four. The Spurs are a rich man’s version of the Pacers. George Hill? A former Spur. Roy Hibbert? A Duncan protégé.
“But I don’t think a Spurs sweep is in the cards, unfortunately. Maybe I’m a pessimist, or maybe I believe in karma, but I think the early Las Vegas odds are about right, giving the Heat a 67 per cent chance to win the series.
“I think the Spurs’ long layoff will hurt them in Game One. I could see the Heat taking both games at home, stealing one in San Antonio and hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy after Game Six in Miami.
“Look for LeBron and Duncan to do their thing. My heart wants Ginobili to take over a game or two for long stretches, but my mind and eyes tell me he no longer has that ability. Tony Parker, the 2007 NBA Finals MVP, needs to be the Spurs’ best player this series, as he has been for most of the year. We’ll see what his gimpy ankle allows him to do.
“We’ll also see how effective Kawhi is guarding LeBron. At best, he can impact LeBron’s efficiency and make him work hard to get his 25 to 50 points per night. While James has size over Leonard, I don’t think he’ll be able to back Leonard down in the paint over and over again like he did against the Pacers. Coach Popovich is too smart to allow that and the Spurs’ bigs will double-team early.
“I’ll be surprised if Wade reverts to classic form. His knee is shot. Rather than specific players, I think this series comes down to shooting. The Spurs, with their vastly superior front court, will try to force the Heat to shoot mid-range jump shots, the least efficient way to score in the NBA.
“The problem with that is the ability of James, Wade, Bosh, Allen, Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem, etcetera to make those shots. On the flip side, the Heat will pack the paint to stop Parker from penetrating into the lane. That will lead to kick outs and long-range shots.
“If the Heat are able to contest those shots effectively, and/or the Spurs lose their shooting touch, then it’s major trouble for San Antonio. If Parker can’t get into the lane, and the Spurs shooters can’t score, then the Spurs offence will stagnate and the Heat will be running fast breaks and shattering backboards with monster jams.
“While much of the discussion will centre around the performance of LeBron, the regular season Most Valuable Player, I expect he’ll play great and score a ton of points. James is going to get his, no doubt. I think the real test will be whether the better-coached Spurs can execute and if that execution will be enough to overcome the more athletic Heat.”