Today’s Game of the Day selection was challenging considering there are a few on the schedule that are worth mentioning as worthy candidates. After Carmelo Anthony went off for 62 points on Friday against a top ten defense, it will be interesting to see what he and the New York Knicks do against the ghastly defense of the Los Angeles Lakers. Later in the night the surprising Portland Trailblazers take on fellow Western Conference contender, the Golden State Warriors. But considering how the NBA Finals ended last year, it would be tough to choose any game other game for Game of the Day besides San Antonio at Miami.
Miami and San Antonio are in similar spots right now; established as contenders, yet content with coasting through the regular season, letting younger teams have their time in the spot light and presumably home court advantage in the playoffs along with that. What each team lacks in regular season motivation, they make up for in the ability to find another gear when need be. Miami’s metaphorical switch has been hit so many times over the last three seasons it’s questionable whether it still works. But if it does, they go to a level that no other team is capable of reaching. They have shown that they are capable of combining feverish defensive pressure with breathtaking open court flair that few teams have ever concocted. The Spurs are similar in that there is a certain “Only they can play this well” feel to it when they are clicking. At their best, the Spurs play the most beautiful basketball you could imagine. Seriously, it’s like early 1990’s Julia Roberts beautiful.
What should you expect from today’s game? The final two games of the 2013 NBA Finals were as dramatic as any two sporting events I have ever seen. Given the high stakes of those games and the relatively miniscule stakes of the game tonight, I would advise you not to expect a game with the level of intensity brought in those two finals games. Still, with both teams still in the mix for home court advantage throughout the playoffs, don’t be surprised if each team plays with a little more edge than we’ve been accustomed to seeing so far this season. The Spurs come into the game with an impressive 33-10 record, but they’ve been unable to defeat any of the elite teams this season (Oklahoma City, Indiana and Portland). I would include the 31-12 Miami Heat to the list of elite teams. Even though they’ve shown startling lapses in defensive intensity and efficiency, they currently sit only three games behind the league leading Indiana Pacers.
The matchup to watch for is not one between two players, rather a five man unit versus one player. In the NBA Finals the Spurs had success defending LeBron James early in the series. It was Kawhi Leonard—currently sidelined with a broken hand—who was spearheading the defensive effort, but it was the scheme more than anything that rendered LeBron passive early on. Without Leonard there it will be interesting to see how well the Spurs can defend LeBron, who amidst the well-deserved hype for Kevin Durant, has been averaging 30 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists in his last ten games.
In the end I’ll take Miami in a close game over San Antonio. Sound familiar?
The Pick: Miami 107, San Antonio 101
National TV: ABC
Time: 1:00 p.m. EST