Another game, another Spurs win. San Antonio routed the Miami Heat again in Game 4, logging another win of 19 or more points on the court that created so many demons for it last season. Is this NBA Finals all but over? 5-on-5 weighs in.
1. Are the Spurs really this much better than the Heat?
Amin Elhassan, ESPN Insider: In a sense, yes! Think about it like this: Miami has one of the highest basketball IQs in the league, and for much of the season its offense has whipped the ball around with the same speed and efficiency the Spurs have in this series. Yet San Antonio has taken all that away and reduced the Heat to a poor man's Oklahoma City.
Israel Gutierrez, ESPN.com: They are now, yes. There was a time when Miami could ramp up the defense and the Spurs would play out of character. That time wasn't too long ago, either. Just watch the end of Game 2, when Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili tried to win it at the end and failed. Now, with the Spurs playing like their usual selves, it's quite obvious the Heat's defense can't hang, and the offense isn't good enough to keep up.
Kevin Pelton, ESPN Insider: No. But what we've seen in this series outside of Game 2 has confirmed what I thought entering it -- that San Antonio is clearly the superior team and the difference was masked to some extent by a much more difficult path to the Finals.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, ESPN.com: Not this much better, but better indeed. The Spurs showed their balance Thursday with the kind of crushing defensive performance the Heat can rarely muster. The focus on whether they can sign Carmelo Anthony distracts from how their defense has been lacking this season.
Michael Wallace, Heat Index: Yes. Sometimes you just have to examine the evidence at hand and trust what your eyes and the scoreboard are telling you. This series isn't about what's wrong with Miami, the two-time defending champ. It's about what has gone extremely well for San Antonio. Tony Parker was asked after Game 4 whether he was surprised how superb his team is playing. He countered by saying: It's simply Spurs basketball.
2. What's the biggest issue for the Heat?
Elhassan: Lack of depth and athleticism. The well has gone dry for Miami: The rejuvenated Dwyane Wade we saw in earlier playoff rounds might as well be a sepia-toned newsreel on display at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame; Birdman (Chris Andersen) has been grounded; the point guard play has been, in a word, "turrible." Outside of LeBron James and Chris Bosh, this just isn't a gifted roster.
Gutierrez: The defense they normally rely upon is failing them. And frankly, it shouldn't have been a surprise. For the postseason, the Heat have allowed an effective field goal percentage of 53.9 percent, which is consistent with the defense they played all regular season. No team has won a title allowing an eFG of higher than 50 percent. The Heat would need to literally put a lid on the basket to get under 50 percent at this point.
Pelton: Erik Spoelstra doesn't have a single lineup he can trust right now. Until or unless Miami finds that combination, there's no chance of beating the Spurs.
Strauss: The aforementioned defense is a problem, especially with Andersen and Wade moving so slowly out there. The Heat didn't suddenly get old, but San Antonio's ball movement can suddenly reveal their age. They could make up for the defensive breakdowns if they had a rim protector, but they don't currently have one.
Wallace: Where, oh, where should we begin? LeBron James has been uncharacteristically sloppy and inconsistent at the start of games. Wade's impact has plummeted after peaking against Indiana. Bosh is too caught up in his lack of opportunities on offense, when it's the defensive end where the Heat could truly use his aggression. And the supporting cast is being destroyed by the Spurs' role players. It's an equal-opportunity meltdown for Miami right now.
3. Would having Carmelo on the Heat right now make a difference?
Elhassan: It would give them a shot in the arm for the offense and allow James to focus on other areas. But it wouldn't have solved the massive defensive breakdowns that have plagued the Heat in the past two games.
Gutierrez: Of course he would. I mean, he's more than a little bit better than Rashard Lewis. Obviously Melo wouldn't have made up for all of the Heat's defensive deficiencies, but the offense he can provide would've allowed Miami to compete.
Pelton: He'd make a difference because Miami simply needs good, reliable players right now. Anthony would provide the consistent scoring that Wade could not in Game 4. He wouldn't make the difference, though, because the gap between the teams has been so large.
Strauss: Not at all. The Heat are getting absolutely crushed on defense, and Carmelo isn't a good defensive player. They'd certainly be a better team if he were taking, say, Lewis' minutes, but not good enough to close this gap.
Wallace: C'mon, man. When you have LeBron, Wade and Bosh on your roster, you don't get to play the "what if we had ..." game. It's a shame how the possibility of Carmelo joining Miami has overshadowed, in some instances, what's actually happening between the Heat and Spurs. Who would have figured Carmelo would ever have this type of impact on an NBA Finals? But just for the sake of debate, the Heat would still struggle to defend and still wouldn't get anything meaningful from the bench.
4. Who's the MVP of the series so far?
Elhassan: From Game 1, when he posted what I called the most dominant two-point performance in Finals history, Boris Diaw has changed the complexion of the game with every minute he has played. His IQ, passing, size advantage and passing (that's right, I listed it twice) have shredded the Heat, who have struggled to find an option to throw on him. He has blown the series wide open.
Gutierrez: Tim Duncan. Kawhi Leonard could lock it up with another stellar game in San Antonio, especially because all eyes are on the Leonard-James matchup. But Duncan is what makes the interior defense so effective for San Antonio. Even his little plays, such as tipped rebounds over Bosh or Andersen, have been huge.
Pelton: Boris Diaw. LeBron James has actually been the most valuable player, but we don't give the MVP to players on losing teams anymore -- especially in a series this lopsided. Because voters can't pick the whole team, why not reward Diaw for his difference-making role? The Spurs have outscored the Heat by 60 points with him on the floor.
Strauss: It's Kawhi Leonard, who has been incredible these past two games. He's also the most irreplaceable of Spurs. If Parker goes down, they have Patty Mills. If Duncan falls, they have Tiago Splitter. If Kawhi gets hurt? There just isn't a passable alternative.
Wallace: Old Man Riverwalk. Duncan stoically said the Spurs were going to "do it this time" and beat the Heat after last year's collapse in Game 6. So far, he has been prophetic. Duncan's leadership and determination have set the tone for this series. His 15.8 points and 10.5 rebounds a game support his case. Parker, Leonard and Diaw can all still make a late run for it.
5. What are the chances LeBron has played his last home game in Miami?
Elhassan: 0.1 percent chance. I can't see LeBron leaving the best owner in the league, one of the shrewdest executives in the league, one of the best young coaches in the league, and, oh yeah, South Beach for ... I mean, that's the point. If he were to leave, where would he go?
Gutierrez: Pretty poor. LeBron's not the only one who recognizes this team needs a personnel shakeup. Pat Riley sees it. Erik Spoelstra sees it. And at the very least, LeBron likely will give Riley a chance to improve this group next season. That would mean he opts into his contract rather than test free agency. But I'd say it's better than a 50 percent chance he'll return.
Pelton: 5 percent? Even if James isn't convinced that Miami is the right place for him long term, it makes more sense for him to delay opting out until 2015, when there will be more legitimate suitors for his services than this summer.
Strauss: I give a Miami exit about a 5 percent chance of happening. There aren't good alternative options, and it's one of the best places to live. The upside of this drubbing is it forces the Heat to confront what they need to change going forward.
Wallace: I repeat: C'mon, man. Which one is it? Is Carmelo coming to Miami or is LeBron leaving? I'm starting to get confused. I'd be stunned if Game 4 were LeBron's swan song in Miami. I think he's 97 percent likely to stay. But if he leaves, then you thank the man for bringing his talents to South Beach for a four-year administration that included four trips to the Finals and two titles.