LeBron James is averaging 26.8 points per game for the Heat while Tim Duncan… (Rhona Wise / EPA / Ronald…)
Heat vs. Spurs: How they match up
A look at the two teams before Game 1 of the NBA Finals
LeBron James is right when he says he's way better than the player who couldn't carry Cleveland past San Antonio in the 2007 NBA Finals.
It's also true that James' Miami Heat has a much better supporting cast than those Cavaliers did.
The problem for Miami in these Finals could be what hasn't changed much since then: the Spurs. The core of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili is playing as well collectively as it ever has, and Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich has perfectly aligned his role players Tiago Splitter, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green to provide big-time contributions.
San Antonio's four-game sweep of Memphis in the Western Conference finals also provided a nine-day layoff, just what Parker's sore left calf needed. Miami is coming off a seven-game grind of a series in which every member of its roster was questioned with the exception of James, whose singular brilliance remained a constant.
Here is a look at the matchup between the teams:
Starting guards: Each team has an All-Star guard dealing with a nagging injury, but only the Spurs' Parker appears anywhere close to top form. Dwyane Wade has been spotty throughout the playoffs because of a knee injury that has deprived him of his usual quick burst. Miami's Mario Chalmers has averaged only 3.5 assists in the playoffs, low for a point guard surrounded by so much talent. Edge: Spurs.
Starting forwards: James is having a phenomenal playoffs, leading the Heat in points (26.2), rebounds (7.3) and assists (6.4) even while at times seemingly forced to play one on five. Udonis Haslem is a fan favorite who has spent his entire career with the Heat, so he's got that going for him. San Antonio's Leonard has become one of the game's top young defenders and Splitter has become a deceptively effective scorer. Edge: Heat.
Starting centers: At 37, Duncan seems to be aging like one of the top-shelf Pinot Noirs from Popovich's Oregon-based A to Z Wineworks. Bosh may be closer to a dusty bottle of Pinot Gris: rough around the edges and past his prime. Edge: Spurs.
Offense: The Spurs are experts at spacing the floor and running pick-and-rolls. The Heat looked at times against the Pacers like it had no plan except for getting the ball to James. Edge: Spurs.
Defense: This is a category that doesn't figure to be lacking in the series. The Heat has allowed 100 points in the playoffs only once, and the Pacers needed overtime to get there. The Spurs have yielded triple digits twice, including once in double overtime. Edge: Heat.
Benches: Ginobili is probably the only starting-caliber reserve in the series, even though his game is in decline. Miami's Chris Andersen has provided some production to go with his hustle, and Ray Allen has got some game left, even at 37. Edge: Even.
Coaches: Popovich could easily be the best coach in NBA history (give him Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant for more than a decade and see how many titles he wins). He game-plans to perfection. He makes smart adjustments. He tweaks his players into their best performances. Erik Spoelstra's most notable move this season might have been to date a former Heat dancer. Edge: Spurs.
Intangibles: There is that revenge thing hanging in the air for James. And Miami could have Games 6 and 7 at home. Edge: Heat.
Bolch's pick: Each finger on one of Duncan's hands will become a ring finger. Spurs in seven.
Lineups Spurs starters P Player PPG RPG APG
C T. Duncan 17.8 9.9 2.7 F K. Leonard 11.9 6.0 1.6 F T. Splitter 10.3 6.4 1.6 G D. Green 10.5 3.1 1.8 G T. Parker 20.3 3.0 7.6 Key reserves P Player PPG RPG APG
G M. Ginobili 11.8 3.4 4.6 G G. Neal 9.5 2.1 1.9 F-C D. Blair 5.4 3.8 0.7 Heat Starters P Player PPG RPG APG
C C. Bosh 16.6 6.8 1.7 F L. James 26.8 8.0 7.3 F U. Haslem 3.9 5.4 0.5 G D. Wade 21.2 5.0 5.1 G M. Chalmers 8.6 2.2 3.5 Key reserves P Player PPG RPG APG
G R. Allen 10.9 2.7 1.7 C C. Andersen 4.9 4.1 0.4 F S. Battier 6.6 2.3 1.0