The Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs are set for a NBA Finals rematch. So we took some time to think of the questions you are thinking heading into the series.
1. How much will Mike Miller be missed?
Miller didn't have a huge finals by any means, only scoring in double figures once, and going scoreless three times. But he did start the finals four games that saw the Heat go 3-1 after being down 2-1. Miami used his energy and defense to help beat the Spurs. This year, his replacement is Rashard Lewis. Lewis was good against the Pacers, but he isn't the same as Miller. Miami has enough weapons to stretch the floor, the key will be hold Lewis will hold up defensively. Miller was an energy player, got his hands on passes, and got rebounds. Lewis isn't as active, but he is solid enough to keep Boris Diaw in front of him, I hope.
In all honesty, the Heat didn't miss Miller many times this season. Sure, it would been nice to have him for all the times that Dwyane Wade was out, but when closing time comes, it's been Ray Allen stepping up. The Heat will need Allen, obviously but they will also need Battier who should feel rested. Could it possibly be the growth and play of Norris Cole that steps up again in this series?
2. How much will the Spurs having home court and the new Finals 2-2-1-1-1 format be a factor?
The Miami Heat have 15 straight series with a road win. That's at least one road win in every series they have played over the last 4 seasons. And the Heat will need to win on the road to capture their third straight championship, maybe even win more than once. The Spurs having home court definitely changes the aspect of the series. It's not easy to win in San Antonio, and it's not easy to win twice in a series if the Heat manage to lose a home game to the Spurs.
The 2-2-1-1-1 is a change for the Finals this year removing the 2-3-2 format that was out of date. Either way, Miami will really need to get a split if they want a chance to extend the series. There's no other team in the NBA that the Heat respect more than the Spurs, and they know they are capable, like them, to win anywhere. The Spurs demonstrated that by overcoming a half time deficit to win Game 6 on the road in Oklahoma City without Tony Parker. They were also 30-11 on the road this season (Miami was 22-19).
3. Will Rashard Lewis remain as a starter?
It's very likely because Spoelstra is usually a game late, or sometimes a half to make the change. Listen, Rashard might be a valuable starter against the Spurs, I just don't know if he will start the entire series. Udonis Haslem and Shane Battier are options for the Heat as well. I think Spo keeps Lewis as a starter for Game 1, and depending on the production and outcome, it's up for grabs after that. The rotation will play tight against the Spurs, with Andersen, Cole, and Allen staples off the bench. Haslem and Battier will be used, maybe more than I will expect, but I'm just not confident in their consistency at this point. And no, despite playing against them in regular season do no expect to see Greg Oden or Michael Beasley in the NBA Finals (at least in meaningful minutes).
4. Can LeBron break through the Spurs strategy against him?
Last year, it took LeBron James a little while to figure out the Spurs. Through games 1-3, he had 18, 17, and 15 points before breaking out for 33, 25, 32, and 37 the rest of the series. He only shot above 50% in two games that series. James, and we, all know that the Spurs are going to go under the screens to guard James. They will dare him to shoot and prevent him from driving. Last year, LeBron didn't shoot very well at the beginning of the series, and then in Game 7, he hit five three-pointers.
James is going to have to break through the Spurs strategy. He will have to force his way into the lane, but he, and Wade will also have to pick their spots, mix it up and make them respect the jump shot. I think LeBron will figure it out, he always does (in 14 of the past 15 series with the Heat, other than 2011 Dallas). It simply a matter of if LeBron's shot is on, and if it's not how much of that will be in his head?
5. Gary Neal is gone, but is Danny Green going to light the Heat up again?
Yes, probably at some point. But not for the 5 game extended NBA record stretch he did last time. Listen, the Spurs offense by nature creates open looks for guys and they always know where Green is. He will get looks, and he is going to know a lot of them down. He has the green light. The Heat can't shut down the entire Spurs offense, but they can slow different parts. Gary Neal won't do it, but Manu Ginobili is playing a lot better than he did last NBA Finals. He seems ready to go. And after all that, the Heat will still have to figure out Tony Parker and Tim Duncan.
It's not going to be easy, the Heat have their work cut out for them. This series will as much be in the hands of Erik Spoelstra as it is his players. Prepare for a terrific, difficult, and exciting NBA Finals.