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Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs: Old rivals in the same boat

CONTRIBUTOR
Feature
132   //    02 Apr 2019, 01:24 IST

Gregg Popovich and Dwyane Wade
Gregg Popovich and Dwyane Wade

The events from the past two weeks brought back memories of the two epic NBA Finals between two championship teams, the San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat.

The first was Dwyane Wade’s visit to San Antonio as part of his farewell tour. This would be the last time Wade visits San Antonio as an NBA player. D-Wade has been exchanging jerseys with players across the league, but Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich had something special planned for Wade. He gave Wade a gift-wrapped box at the start of the game and it was later revealed that the box contained signed jerseys from Spurs greats Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.

The other reminders of the Spurs-Heat rivalry came during the jersey retirement ceremonies of Chris Bosh and Manu Ginobili, at Miami and San Antonio respectively. Two-time champion Chris Bosh won his last championship ring by defeating Ginobili and the Spurs. While four-time champion Manu Ginobili won his last ring by defeating Bosh and the Heat.

The Spurs and the Heat faced off each other in two consecutive NBA Finals in 2013 and in 2014. Miami Heat won the first time while San Antonio Spurs took the trophy the second time. A lot has changed in the past five years. Due to retirements and player movements, both these franchises are not the same anymore.

But despite this, they're both in similar situations this season. Both have a possibility of sneaking into the playoffs.

NBA franchises often decide on a specific path for a season. They could chase championship glory or choose to develop assets instead. But when it comes to the Spurs and the Heat, it is difficult to put them in a bracket. Both franchises have a winning culture.

With championship coaches and multiple trophies, they will not lose to gain future draft picks. They are clearly not tearing down their teams with the intention of rebuilding and they don’t have notable young players to develop for the years to come. And both franchises are pushing ahead despite lacking the talent and the depth in their rosters.

The Heat play tough basketball by being physical and hard-nosed. A key point to consider is that they play in the less competitive Eastern Conference. The Heat may not have the firepower, but they play good defense and they punish their opponents.

Now, with most of their players back from injuries, Miami have surged in the last few games by defeating tough opponents. Dwyane Wade will be a factor as he will push his team for the best possible outcome in his final NBA season.

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Being well coached, the Miami Heat can sneak into the playoffs and could cause some problems for top-seeded teams. Coach Eric Spoelstra has more playoff and championship experience than any coach in the East.

As the bottom seed teams have very close separation, the Heat could also end up facing any of the top three teams in the East: Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors and the Philadelphia 76ers.

The 76ers did not have Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris last year and they still beat the Miami Heat in the playoff series. Now with all their stars coming together, the 76ers have become a dominant force. The Toronto Raptors have a strong team with Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard leading the way. But the Raptors as a team have a bad history in the playoffs and this time the coaching as it is led Nick Nurse, who is on his first stint as an NBA head coach.

If the Heat were to go into the playoffs against the Milwaukee Bucks, then they can cause an upset. The Bucks squad is plagued with injuries with their key starters out of the rotation and even their star, Giannis Antetokounmpo, tweaked his ankle recently. Coach Budenholzer of the Bucks is a great regular season coach. But his earlier campaigns in the playoffs have not been successful. 

The San Antonio Spurs have a tougher road in the West. With the intense competition and the constant change in the seeding, the Spurs could end up as one of the bottom two teams in the playoffs. But match-ups will matter more than seeding. If the Spurs face the Golden State Warriors, then it could be the same outcome as last year: a first-round exit for the Spurs. The talent and firepower of the two-time defending champions, the Golden State Warriors, is far superior to the Spurs.

Things could be interesting if the Spurs get the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs. The Denver Nuggets are a young all-around team and they will have home court advantage. The Nuggets' home court advantage will be a factor in their playoffs as the altitude of the Pepsi Center makes it one of the toughest arenas for any visiting team. But the Nuggets are short on playoff experience. There is no coach in the league right now who could even come close to Coach Popovich’s playoff experience. He is known for turning unknown players into NBA professions and getting the best out of his team.

The Spurs and the Heat have a lot of history. In the present moment though, both the franchises are in the same situation. It is the last season of Dwyne Wade and it could very well be one the last few years of Coach Gregg Popovich’s long career. The playoffs are around the corner and it is time to what these two teams can do. Can they cause an upset or will they exit the first round as playoff fodder?

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