For much of the first half of this season neither Miami nor San Antonio was expected to be playing for this season’s NBA Title.
The Indiana Pacers were the dominant team in the Eastern Conference, playing consistently outstanding basketball from November through January.
San Antonio played solid basketball all season but up until the All Star break the Spurs had trouble defeating the other “elite” teams in the league. San Antonio was 1-7, both SU and ATS, against such teams up through the All Star break. It appeared as though either Oklahoma City or the Los Angeles Clippers were poised to prevent the Spurs from a second straight trip to the NBA Finals.
But once the All Star break passed Indiana’s play started to resemble that of a team headed for the lottery. Miami had been playing well all season and was able to briefly catch and surpass Indiana for the top seed in the East.
By the end of the regular season Indiana had regrouped enough to fend off Miami and claim the top seed in the East but the Pacers’ play over the final two months had most observers favoring Miami to represent the East in the NBA Finals despite having to do so as the number two seed.
In the Western Conference San Antonio started to turn things around after the All Star break and ultimately earned that Conference’s top seed by a decent margin. The Spurs had started to beat the teams they’d likely have to face in the Playoffs, although they still lost their late regular season game with Oklahoma City, which resulted in the Thunder taking all four regular season meetings with the Spurs, covering all four games by a minimum of 3.5 points.
Still, the experience of the Spurs had the majority of observers forecasting a Miami vs. San Antonio Championship Series in a rematch of what was a thrilling seven game series last season, won by Miami.
And as it turned out the top two seeds in each conference advanced to the Conference Finals with second seeded Miami eliminating top seeded Indiana in the East, and top seeded San Antonio ousting second seeded Oklahoma City in the West with each series lasting just six games.
And thus we have the NBA Finals matchup that many predicted and many more wanted, especially considering how close San Antonio came to de-throning the defending Heat last season. In a game for the ages San Antonio, by all rights, should have won Game 6, but an improbable chain of events that led to Ray Allen’s 3-pointer and an overtime, gave the Heat a new life they took full advantage of in winning Game 7.
The Spurs now have a chance at redemption plus a chance to win a fifth ring in the Tim Duncan/Gregg Popovich era. It’s an intriguing rematch between a pair of teams with more similarities than differences.
Both rosters are built around a nucleus of three All Star players. Miami’s “Big 3” are LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The Spurs counter with Duncan, Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker. Both teams have solid complementary players. And both are well coached.
Although the Spurs’ Popovich has received more acclaim, it’s hard to argue with the accomplishments of Miami coach Eric Spoelstra who seeks a third straight NBA Title and is taking his team to a fourth straight NBA Finals.
The teams met twice in the regular season with each team winning on its home court. On Jan. 26 Miami defeated the Spurs 113-101, covering as 3.5 point favorites in a game that went OVER the closing Total of 205.
In the rematch about six weeks later, on March 6, San Antonio routed Miami 111-87, easily covering as similar 3.5 point home favorites in a game that stayed UNDER the closing Total of 206.
Despite the swapping of double digit wins these teams, as last season’s NBA Finals showed, are very evenly matched. The core rosters remain virtually the same as last season with some minor tweaks.
By virtue of a better record San Antonio has the home court advantage should this series go the full seven games.
Note the sequencing of the games is back to the old 2-2-1-1-1 format used in the earlier rounds of the Playoffs, which had been used years ago prior to the NBA changing to the 2-3-2 format designed to conserve energy and reduce travel costs.
The 2-2-1-1-1 format insures the team that earned home court advantage will always have that advantage as long as the home team wins. Under the 2-3-2 format the “lesser” team would have the home court edge in the fifth game of a series tied at two games apiece.
At one offshore locale that opened wagering shortly after the Spurs defeated OKC Saturday night the Spurs opened as high as -140 favorites. That was before full consideration was accorded the potential status of the Spurs’ Parker and Kawhi Leonard, both of whom were injured in the win over the Thunder and were initially listed as questionable for the opening game versus the Heat.
As a result, after the initial money came in on the Spurs to push San Antonio to -150 the next waves of money came in fast and furious on Miami such that at one point the Heat were bet up to as high as -125 favorites. The tide then reversed direction as the status of both Parker and Leonard became more “probable” than “questionable” with the Spurs being bet back up to favorites of between -125 and -130 as of press time.
The line for Game 1 opened with the Spurs as 4 point home favorites and was immediately bet down to -3.5 at most shops. By mid-morning on Monday there were mostly -3.5 lines with a scattering of -4s to be found.
The forecast here is for San Antonio to deny Miami a “three peat” and claim it’s fifth championship in 7. We figure it to be tied 2-2 headed back to San Antonio for Game 5.
As such the play in Game 1 will be to take the 4 points with Miami and to come back with the straight up loser as the point spread play in Game 2.
When the series heads to Miami for Games 3 and 4 the series will either be 1-1 or 2-0. The total for Game 1 sits at 198.5 to 199. Last season’s Finals saw all three games go OVER with the total points ranging from 190 to 218. Note those three games were played consecutively in Games 3, 4, 5 under the old 2-3-2 format.
The UNDER was 3-1 in games played in Miami. The lone OVER needed overtime. At the end of regulation in that infamous Game 6 the score was tied at 95 with the Total at 192.
The totals lines for the regular season meetings this season were 205 and 206 with the game in Miami going OVER and the meeting in San Antonio staying UNDER.
With the downward adjustment in the total of nearly four buckets the value would appear to be in playing the OVER. The two regular season meetings this season produced 198 and 214 total points. Yet 5 of the 7 games in last season’s Finals produced 190 or fewer points, ignoring the overtime points in Game 6.
With Playoff games generally lower scoring than regular season games the UNDER would be the preferred way to look even though this season’s Playoff games have produced 49 OVERS and just 35 UNDERS.
The Finals will be re-examined in next week’s column.
Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to Gaming Today readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Contact Andy at [email protected]