Because of their superior depth, attention to detail, exceptional basketball IQ, battle-tested head coach and home-court advantage, the San Antonio Spurs will win this year’s NBA title.
The Spurs were the only team to win 30-plus games at home (32) and on the road (30) this season. This consistency to perform no matter the venue will bode well for San Antonio as the NBA has reached its version of the Final Four.
And it will help the Spurs exorcise the demons of 2013.
Last season the Spurs gifted-wrapped the championship to the Miami Heat.
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Up 3-2 in the Finals and ahead by five points with 28 seconds left in Game 6, the Spurs lost in overtime and went on to lose Game 7.
Game 6 seemed so over that NBA personnel already had the champagne on ice in the Spurs’ locker room, and plastic covering the players’ lockers so their fancy clothes wouldn’t get splashed with the expensive bubbly.
The rabid fan base in the Alamo City still talks about Game 6. with utter disdain. Still talks about all those missed free throws down the stretch.
Still talks about needing one more clutch rebound, and how San Antonio’s top rebounder — Tim Duncan — was puzzlingly sitting on the bench at a time when they needed one more.
It was one of the rare times when Spurs coach Gregg Popovich didn’t have the right personnel in the game.
This time around, don’t expect a repeat if the Spurs find themselves in the same situation.
Of course, a lot of the Spurs’ success hinges on the health of point guard Tony Parker, who has a slightly strained left hamstring. But the Spurs are so deep that they can plug in Patty Mills or Manu Ginobili at the point and keep on trucking.
Meanwhile, whatever chance Oklahoma City had of upsetting the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals was squashed with Friday’s announcement that forward Serge Ibaka will miss the remainder of the playoffs with a left calf injury.
Ibaka averaged career highs of 15.1 points and 8.8 rebounds during the regular season and 12.2 points and 7.3 rebounds in the playoffs.
It’s just another tough blow for the Thunder, which lost point guard Russell Westbrook for the remainder of last year’s playoffs in the first round when he tore an ACL.
Although backups Steven Adams and Nick Collison are capable replacements for the Thunder down low, they don’t possess Ibaka’s freakish athleticism, shot-blocking artistry and intimidating presence.
With no Ibaka as the third scoring wheel, the pressure for Kevin Durant and Westbrook to score even more points becomes magnified.
In the Eastern Conference Finals, the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat will square off against the Indiana Pacers. Miami is trying to become the first team since Boston (1984-87) to reach the Finals four years in a row, and the first team since the Los Angeles Lakers (2000-02) to three-peat.
While chasing history, the Heat looked tired this season as LeBron James continues to carry a heavy load similar what he did with the Cleveland Cavaliers. James must feel like he’s back in Cleveland because Miami never knows what it’s going to get from Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh.
But the ultimate Jekyll-Hyde team is the Indiana Pacers. As the East’s No. 1 seed, the Pacers went the full seven games with eighth-seeded Atlanta in the first round, and then lost two home games in the second round to Washington before finally eliminating the Wizards in six games.
With the East Finals set to start Sunday and the West starting Monday, the NBA Finals is shaping up as a rematch between last year’s two combatants.
Wouldn’t it be fitting if the Spurs wound up meeting the Heat in the Finals, and beating them in six games?
Maybe this time the NBA personnel won’t have to wheel the champagne out of the Spurs’ locker room unused.