Heat, Spurs Prepare For NBA Finals Showdown

NPR's Mike Pesca talks to All Things Considered host Robert Siegel about the Miami Heat, who will defend its NBA title against the San Antonio Spurs. It is the third consecutive trip to the finals for the Heat and though they had a tough series with Indiana, many still consider them the favorite. The best of seven championship series starts Thursday.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. The NBA Finals are set. For a third straight year, the Miami Heat will be playing for the championship. The Heat won last year and they'll defend their title against the San Antonio Spurs. Tip-off for the championship series is Thursday, and now here to talk about the Heat, Spurs and about grace under pressure is NPR's Mike Pesca. Hi, Mike.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Hello.

SIEGEL: The Heat blew out the Pacers last night in Miami, 99-to-76. Is it too simplistic just to say that LeBron James was the difference?

PESCA: He was the difference. He was the sum. He was the quotient. He was everything in that game. And I don't think - he had help and he had more help from teammates Bosh and Wade than he had in previous games and that certainly mattered. But what LeBron did - I mean, just how he dominated and how determined he was, how he got everyone involved and his defense. You know, he shut down a really good offensive player in Paul George.

And when you take sort of the net total of the points he contributed on offense, how many points he denied George, it counted for over 50 points easily. Plus, he was sitting with about five minutes left to go. This was, I think, without exaggeration, 'cause it was game 7, this was one of the great NBA playoff performances ever.

SIEGEL: The Heat won 27 games in a row in the regular season, but this series with the Pacers went onto game 7. Doesn't that show that they're vulnerable and that the Spurs could give the Heat a run?

PESCA: It does, especially because, as I mentioned, the players, other than LeBron James, hadn't been doing their part in many of the losses to the Pacers. Dwyane Wade is hurt and that certainly factors in. And Chris Bosh, I mean, here's a guy who's a center, but his game is dependent on his outside shot and his outside shot just isn't falling.

The Spurs do a couple things that annoy the Heat, like they have big men, Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter, two 6'11" players. But their big men aren't quite like the Pacer's big man, Roy Hibbert. Hibbert got the ball close to the basket and dunked, whereas Duncan likes to shoot a little bit from the outside. Splitter is pretty good on the pick and roll. So it's a little bit different.

It's not exactly the perfect formula to thwart the Heat but, you know, the Spurs are really good, and we haven't even mentioned their point guard, Tony Parker. He's excellent.

SIEGEL: Yeah. Well, beside the big-name players, any smaller match-ups to keep an eye on?

PESCA: Yeah. Kawhi Leonard, who will be defending LeBron James for most of the game, is one of these long-armed, very skilled defensive players and he's pretty good at offense, good at the outside shot, especially from the corner. Watch, that's where he likes to shoot. Beyond players, time is important. The Spurs are old and they and players like Duncan, who's 37, they need time off between games.

The NBA is on a Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday schedule, so those games between Thursday and Sunday might be games that the Spurs can rest up. And this first game in the series, the Spurs will have been rested for over a week, so that might help them.

SIEGEL: If Miami wins, that would be LeBron James second championship. But for the Spurs, Tim Duncan, if they win, it would be his fifth. What would that say about Tim Duncan?

PESCA: It will say what the cognoscente already know, which is that he is a great player, a top 10 all-time player. It might shock someone who follows basketball casually to know that he's constantly ranked above players like Doctor J and Larry Bird, but that's how good he is. Four championships, five championships, he's still one of the great players in NBA history.

SIEGEL: Okay. Thanks, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Mike Pesca, talking about the upcoming championship series between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs.

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