Game 7 was certainly a confidence booster but did you see any signs in that blowout that the inconsistency that has plagued the Heat will be a thing of the past?
Surya Fernandez: It was more a return of the dominant Heat from the second half of the regular season but it remains to be seen how the game plan will be tested by the well-coached veteran team of the Spurs. Will Wade still be up-and-down or Bosh stay aggressive? By comparison to the Chicago Bulls and the Indiana Pacers, this series won't be as grueling and physical and that could help both of them.
Jay Ramos: No. The Heat turned up the intensity defensively and wreaked havoc everywhere on the court, but it's never going to be 100 percent consistent. And that's not necessarily a knock on the Heat. They play in a very demanding defensive system that requires a lot of moving parts, and it's not abnormal that it's not always turned all the way on. They will have normal moments of malaise in the Finals. As long as they are kept short, they will be fine.
Matt Pineda: I think the resurgence of Dwyane Wade was very encouraging. I don't know if he can play like that for an entire series with his knee, but he was moving a lot better. Wade was able to make sharp cuts with the ball and do some of things that make him special which was absent the entire series. I think Miami will have to continue to work hard in every aspect to stay sharp against the Spurs.
Mnelik Belilgne: No. I think the Heat's inconsistent struggles are a reflection of their inability to stay healthy. Dwyane Wade especially, who is the most essential piece of the puzzle that can either increase or decrease their inconsistency.
Who should be in the rotation: Mike Miller or Shane Battier?
Ramos: It's not as cut and dry for me, because Miller playing would likely mean less Wade. Battier's role would be as a 'power forward' in Miami's small lineups, so his playing time factors more into Udonis Haslem's, unless the Heat want want to go even smaller. Battier can guard power forwards, which unlocks Miami's ability to get away playing small. Mike looks better right now on offense, but there are other things to consider. I say start the series with Battier getting his normal load and see how he responds to his DNP-CD from game seven of the ECF.
Belilgne: Whoever is making more shots. Simply put, the Heat need their perimeter players to knock down perimeter shots. Last year in the finals, Battier killed the Thunder for two straight games. Whoever is more consistent offensively, should get more run.
Surya: Battier was such an integral part of the successful regular season you want to believe that he can shake off that shooting slump and his defense can be more useful in this series than in the Pacers series. Having said that, if Spoesltra needs to carve out minutes for a resurgent Miller and if Battier continues to struggle then he could get the quick hook. Both are great hustle players so it might not be a bad idea to play them both, especially if Ray Allen is inconsistent with his shot and is giving up a lot on defense.
Pineda: I think Battier should get the initial nod. His defensive IQ make him extremely valuable against the Spurs, but the Heat can't afford to continue to miss open threes like Shane has. I believe Spoelstra will go back to Battier and give him a chance to redeem himself, but if he still struggles shooting, Miller should be called upon much sooner than a Game 6 like against Indiana.
After the grueling series against the Pacers, is this a better matchup for the Heat or not? What's the biggest factor about the Spurs that should worry Heat fans?
Pineda: I think it is a better individual matchup for Wade and Chris Bosh. Bosh has been very productive against the Spurs and will be valuable if he can shoot well. Wade won't have as much pressure on him while on defense ans so those guys should be a little more free to do their thing. But overall, the Spurs are a much better team than the Pacers. They offer challenges on defense for the Heat that the Pacers didn't, and most importantly they have experience. I do not like the idea that Gregg Popovich has had over a week to plan schemes to slow down LeBron James. I believe the biggest factor for the Heat will be to stay committed on defense. If they don't hustle, rotate, and stay keyed in every possession, the Spurs will make them pay.
Ramos: It's a different challenge, and an even better team, but against the Spurs, Miami gets to play at their pace and style, so you could technically say it's a better matchup in that sense. San Antonio isn't as suffocating defensively and won't punish them on the offensive glass, so they won't attack certain Heat weaknesses the same way. The Spurs do bring a much more dynamic offense to the table, however. The pick-and-roll with Tony Parker and the passing of the Spurs will test the Heat rotations and may stop them from being as aggressive as they want to be.
Belilgne: The Spurs are a tougher matchup. The Pacers were bigger and stronger in the interior, which caused the Heat a lot of issues but offensively limited and carless with the ball. The Spurs are much better at taking care of the ball, dangerous from the 3-point arc and 1st in this years regulars season and playoffs in APG. Their passing ability is the biggest thing that should scare Heat fans.
Surya: Parker is one of those quick guards that always seems to enjoy big games against the Heat. Duncan is the kind of big man that can also have big games against the Heat. Those are the Heat's weaknesses in those positions but then again, can Kawhi Leonard really contain LeBron James? Are they athletic enough to keep up with the Heat if the defending champs can consistently play transition ball and spread the floor efficiently with the kind of crisp ball passing we saw in Game 7? There are some matchups that the Heat will have the edge in, but there are trouble spots that can give the Heat many problems.
What can the Heat do to help get Bosh and Wade back on track?
Ramos: Given Dwyane's inconsistent explosion right now with his knee issue, a good bit of isolations on the block might be in store. Wade has a physical advantage over Danny Green, and since the Heat likely get to play small a lot vs. San Antonio, the shooters can be on the floor if the double team comes. Getting Wade close to the rim with cross screens and baseline cuts will limit his workload on the perimeter, which is a good idea right now. He can be effective at the rim, but just doesn't seem to be healthy enough to create at his normal rate on his own.
Bosh just needs to make shots. Especially if Duncan is going to sink on pick-and-rolls, which he usually does, Bosh can feast on pick-and-pops. The Heat can get back to more pick-and-roll in this series without the daunting presence of Roy Hibbert at the rim.
Belilgne: I'm honestly very pessimistic about Dwyane Wade's ability to return to form. I think he's physically and mentally in a fragile place and I'm not sure he'll be able to rise to the occasion this time. Bosh on the other hand should be much more effective this series because of the decreased level of physicality.
Surya: As long as they stay engaged and aggressive then the Heat can live with that if they continue to struggle with their shots. If they can keep crashing the boards, creating turnovers for the opposition, and help LeBron have a complete game then the Heat should be in good shape. Coach would be wise to create scoring opportunities for Bosh since Wade will have more chances with the ball in his hands.
Pineda: I think Bosh's problems have been simple, he wasn't hitting his shots. He was taking many of the same looks, but just missing them. LeBron and Wade need to make sure Chris is getting those shots in rhythm. As far as Wade, I think he needs to be given room to create like his old self. LeBron does so much for this team, but allowing Wade some high pick and rolls and allowing him to dice up the defense will open things up against San Antonio. Duncan is smart but not as quick laterally as the Pacers defense. If Wade can split or create mismatches, he opens up so many things for the Heat offense.
Series prediction and why?
Pineda: This is a tough pick because I think it all hinders on if Miami can win Game 1 after a tough series. But I think the Heat take the series in 6. I believe the Spurs will be a worthy opponent, but LeBron is the King of this league and this is his time. One thing is for sure, it won't be easy.
Surya: Heat in 7. They're not on top of their game so they won't simply be able to cruise by the Spurs and they'll probably need to win a road game too. These first two home games will be huge as we'll see just which Heat team shows up.
Belilgne: Spurs in 6. Only because Dwyane Wade isn't playing to the level we envisioned. I think Spurs steal one of the first two games on the road, than win 2 out of 3 home games. Barring a complete LeBron takeover, which is seemingly possible, I think the Spurs then close it out on the road in game 6.
Ramos: Going to go with Heat in seven. Depending on how much Wade can give, it can go six, or even tilt in the Spurs' favor.