This is part one of a two part series. I will lay out my case as to why the Spurs will beat the Heat in part one while part two is about why the Heat will beat the Spurs. Part two also includes my Finals prediction (just in case ya'll are actually curious about what I think.)
The Spurs are Better This Year
The biggest reason I believe that the Spurs will win the championship is that they are simply better than they were last year. Last year the Spurs won 58 games which was good enough for the 2 seed in the west and ended up having the third best record in the league overall. This year the Spurs won 62 games which was good enough for them to win the overall number 1 seed.
The Spurs offense became even more efficient this year improving from 108.3 to 110.5. Even though the offense improved by a little over 2 points per 100 possessions the defense slipped a little. The Spurs allowed 102.4 points per 100 possessions this year while they only allowed 101.6 points per 100 possessions last year. Despite the defensive slip the Spurs still managed to improve their net rating (offensive efficiency rating minus defensive efficiency rating) from 6.7 last year to 8.1 this year. The Spurs actually led the league in net rating this year while last year they were only fourth.
The Heat are Worse this Year
Last year the Heat won 66 games which was good enough for them to clinch the overall number 1 seed. This year the Heat only won 54 games which was good enough for them to be the 2 seed in the East but only gave them the fifth best record.
The Heat also became a less efficient team. Their offensive efficiency rating dropped from 112.3 last year to 110.9 this year. Their defense also regressed this year. Last year they only gave up 103.7 points per 100 possessions while this year they are giving up 105.8 points per 100 possessions. This means that the Heat are 3.5 points per 100 possessions worse this year than last year.
The Heat also lost a couple of key contributors during the off season. They amnestied Mike Miller to save nearly $17 million. The Heat also added Greg Oden and Michael Beasley in the off season but neither addition has really panned out like they were hoping. Shane Battier is also having the worst season of his career according to PER in addition to having his second worst 3 point shooting season of his career. Ray Allen has also regressed since last year. His 3 point percentage has dropped by 4.4% and his PER has dropped 1.9 points.
Manu is simply playing much better this year than he did last year. Manu's PER has jumped from a slightly above average 16.5 in last year's playoffs up to an all star level 21.1 in this year's playoffs. Manu is also shooting better this year. His True Shooting Percentage has improved from 53% last year to 57.8% this year. He's also turning the ball over less while stealing the ball more. All of his improvements have led to the Spurs scoring 10 more points per 100 possessions with him on the floor than last year and to the Spurs being 9 points better per 100 possessions with him on the floor when compared to last year.
The Foreign Legion
Most people don't realize this but the Spurs bench wasn't great last year. The Spurs primarily rode their starters to the Finals. The starting line up of Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter, Tony Parker, Danny Green, and Kawhi Leonard was the best defensive 5 man unit in the league that played at least 250 minutes together and was third in the league in net rating. Fortunately the Spurs didn't need to depend on their starting line up as much this year because of the Foreign Legion. The Foreign Legion is averaging 45.1 ppg which leads the league. Last year the Spurs bench only averaged 37.9 ppg which was only good for fifth in the league. The Foreign Legion also led the league in +/- outscoring their opponents by an average of 3.8 points while on the court. The bench last year only outscored their opponents by an average of 1 point which was good for fourth in the league. The Foreign Legion has really improved because of the addition of Marco Bellinelli. Patty Mills has also gone from glorified towel waver to being one of the best back up point guards in the league. Boris Diaw is also playing with a new found aggression this year.
Home Court Advantage and the 2-2-1-1-1 Format
This year is the first since 1984 that the Finals will have the traditional 2-2-1-1-1 format as opposed to the 2-3-2 format the NBA used from 1985-2013. The Spurs also have Home Court Advantage this year unlike last year. Since 2010 the team with Home Court Advantage in the 2-2-1-1-1 Format is 51-19 which equates to a win percentage of 73%. Since 1994 the team with Home Court Advantage in the Finals is 14-6 which equates to a win percentage of 70%.
The Spurs are Younger and Deeper than the Heat
A little known secret that goes against the National Media is that the Spurs are actually younger than the Heat. Miami has an average age of 30.3 while the Spurs have an average age of 28.6. Since the Spurs are younger and deeper than Miami that allows the Spurs to push the ball more without having to worry about getting as tired. The Spurs also play at a faster pace than the Heat do. The Spurs average nearly 4 more possessions per game than Miami does. The Spurs depth really showed in the Thunder series. Oklahoma City looked tired in games 5 and 6 most likely due to Brooks playing most of his big guns 40+ minutes each night. I expect the same thing to happen to Miami even though they are deeper than Oklahoma City.
The Spurs Will Dominate the Boards
Despite the fact that the Spurs are only an above average rebounding team they'll dominate the Heat on the boards. The Spurs average 43.3 rebounds per game which is good for 12th in the league. Meanwhile the Heat are dead last in the league and only average 36.9 rebounds per game. The Heat's lack of rebounding is a by product of them playing small so often. Hopefully the Spurs can exploit the Heat's lack of rebounding for easy second chance points.
The Spurs Have Played through Adversity
The Heat have had one of the easiest paths to the Finals in recent memory. They got to play a 43 win
Hornets Bobcats team who's best player, Al Jefferson, got hurt in the 1st quarter of game 1 of the series. They then got to play a 44 win Nets team with a rookie head coach with no prior coaching experience. The Nets were also one of the oldest teams in the league depending on huge contributions from veterans like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. They then got to play a 56 win Pacer team that had one of the biggest collapses to end a season in NBA history and now the Heat are in the Finals. The Heat have only lost three playoff games so far. Meanwhile the Spurs had to play a 49 win Mavericks team that would've been the 3 seed in the East. The Mavericks also have the second best coach in the league in Rick Carlisle, not to mention one of the best shooters in NBA history in Dirk Nowitzki. The Spurs then had to play the 54 win Blazers who have all stars Lamarcus Aldridge and Damien Lillard. After the Blazers the Spurs had to play a 59 win Thunder team that has the reigning MVP, Kevin Durant, and another top 10 player in Russell Westbrook. The Spurs only lost six games on their way to the Finals despite going through the Murderers' Row that is the Western Conference. I believe playing in the much tougher Western Conference has helped prepare the Spurs more than playing in the Leastern Conference has helped Miami.
Needless to say there are plenty of reasons to believe the Spurs will win the series but are there more reasons to pick the Spurs than to pick the Heat? Check out part 2 to find out!