AP Basketball Writer
A position-by-position look at the matchups in the NBA finals between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs:
CENTER: Chris Bosh vs. Tim Duncan. Bosh had two strong games against the Spurs this season, averaging 20.5 points and 10.5 rebounds, and will focus more on that than his difficult Eastern Conference finals against Indiana, when he shot under 38 percent and averaged a measly 4.3 rebounds. Tony Parker does most of San Antonio's offensive damage now, but Duncan showed he's still their man at the biggest moments in the Western Conference finals, twice dominating the overtime periods in a four-game sweep of Memphis. Edge: Spurs.
POWER FORWARD: Udonis Haslem vs. Tiago Splitter. Neither will score often, but the veteran Haslem had a pair of big performances in the East finals, scoring 17 points in one victory, 16 in another, and shooting 8 for 9 in both. Splitter often converts when he gets it, making 58 percent of his shots in the postseason, and scored 18 points in the Spurs' regular-season visit to Miami. Edge: Even.
SMALL FORWARD: LeBron James vs. Kawhi Leonard. James cemented himself as the game's best player when he was the MVP of last year's NBA Finals, and the gap probably grew when he added a fourth regular-season award this year. He stepped up his game when Dwyane Wade and Bosh struggled in the last round, and will be further motivated after the Spurs swept him when his Cleveland Cavaliers reached the 2007 NBA Finals. Leonard is a versatile young player who finds many ways to influence a game, from his 56.5 percent shooting to 8.0 rebounds per game in the postseason. But hoping he, or anyone, can contain James the way the Spurs did six years ago is way too much to ask. Edge: Heat.
SHOOTING GUARD: Wade vs. Danny Green. Wade is normally better than just about any shooting guard in the league, but he's not normal right now. Knee pain has limited his explosiveness and he's averaging just 14.1 points in the playoffs. But the former NBA Finals MVP will probably find a way, just as he did in scoring 21 points, his high for this postseason, in the Game 7 clincher against Indiana. Green is hitting 43 percent of his 3-pointers in the playoffs, and the Heat will have to make sure he's rarely left open. Edge: Heat.
POINT GUARD: Mario Chalmers vs. Tony Parker. The MVP of the 2007 NBA Finals, Parker rolls into the championship round after scoring 37 points in Game 4 of the West finals. Quick point guards have long given Miami trouble, and Parker figures to do the same now. Besides Chalmers, the Heat may give plenty of time at the point to Norris Cole, who has made 15-of-26 3-pointers in the postseason. Edge: Spurs.
RESERVES: Ray Allen, Chris Andersen, Cole, Shane Battier, Mike Miller and Joel Anthony vs. Manu Ginobili, Gary Neal, Matt Bonner, Boris Diaw, Cory Joseph and DeJuan Blair. If Allen and the rest of the wing players are making their 3-pointers, and Andersen continues shooting like he did in his nearly perfect East finals against Indiana, this is a far better bench than the Heat have brought to the NBA Finals in either of the last two years. Ginobili has fought through his injuries to make some big plays in this postseason, and he and Bonner will need to hit from behind the arc to give Parker and Duncan support. Edge: Heat.
COACHES: Erik Spoelstra vs. Gregg Popovich. Spoelstra is a far better coach than when he was outmaneuvered by Dallas' Rick Carlisle two years ago in his first finals, and probably doesn't get as much credit as he deserves with James on his team and Pat Riley in his front office. It will come if he can beat the coach who many feel is the best in the NBA in four-time champion Popovich. Edge: Spurs.
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