A San Antonio-Miami Finals matchup is almost a foregone conclusion.
It's almost inevitable at this point.
The San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat are set to meet in the NBA Finals this June, and there's little that anyone can do about it.
Prepare to witness a battle between the old guard and the new era. The most successful franchise of the past 15 years will go head-to-head with a team that could be the league's next dynasty. A coach with four NBA titles to his credit is set to square off against a man who was an advance scout for the Heat back when the Spurs won their first Larry O'Brien Trophy.
There's no conspiracy to force any particular outcome, no back room machinations to assure that the other 14 playoff teams will fall by the wayside. Miami and San Antonio are simply the two best teams in the NBA, and the cream will ultimately rise to the top.
And even with an alleged disdain for all things Spurs, NBA Commissioner David Stern won't have too many negative things to say if a Miami/San Antonio matchup is the last NBA Finals tilt during his reign.
It wouldn't be a stretch to liken Spurs/Heat to a modern-day, roundball version of the infamous "Catholics vs. Convicts" tussle between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Miami Hurricanes back in 1988.
The Spurs, of course, would be the Catholics: the relatively clean-cut crew from middle America. A franchise that was able to build and sustain a dynasty by doing things "the right way" as former Spurs head coach Larry Brown would say.
San Antonio is a "superteam" in only the loosest definition of the term. Spurs general manager R.C. Buford's fiefdom isn't a result of three talented friends wanting to play together. Instead, a number of shrewd trades as well as a mastery of the draft has led to what may be the most underrated dynasty in the history of professional sports. The Spurs are the only team in NBA history that has won at least 50 games in 14 consecutive seasons.
Meanwhile, the men in the black hats (or jerseys, if you will) are the Miami Heat. The initial ire that came in the aftermath of "The Decision" has long since dissipated, but not everyone is on board with the Three Kings of South Beach. Much like "The U" in the late '80s, Miami is the franchise that everyone either loves or loves to hate.
The Heat didn't violate the league's collective bargaining agreement in any way, but there are those who believe that the team somehow worked the system. That said, with two NBA Finals appearances and one championship to their credit in the past two years, maybe Miami is just ahead of the curve.
While the Heat have been dominant all year, they steamrolled through the league for the better part of the past two months, winning 27 games in a row. Yet despite only losing a single game since the Super Bowl, their record is nearly identical to that of the Spurs.
The respective marks of the two teams could have been identical at this point had San Antonio not pulled a little gamesmanship earlier in the season. Prior to the Spurs' Nov. 29 game against the Heat, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Danny Green were all sent back to San Antonio.
The reasoning was simple: Popovich wanted to give a few key members of his rotation some much-needed rest after playing four games in six nights. Stern wasn't happy with the decision, and subsequently fined the Spurs $250,000.
"The Spurs decided to make four of their top players unavailable for an early-season game that was the team's only regular-season visit to Miami," wrote Stern in a statement issued by the NBA. "Under these circumstances, I have concluded that the Spurs did a disservice to the league and our fans."
Did Popovich owe fans an early-season playoff preview? Perhaps. But Spurs-Heat is the rivalry that isn't: Miami and San Antonio haven't played often enough to engender a genuine level of dislike. If anything, it's more of a mutual admiration society, though that may change by Game 4 of the Finals.
"[San Antonio is] obviously a very, very, very good team," said Miami shooting guard Dwyane Wade prior to the Heat's second matchup against the Spurs this season. "[Playing them is] not going to be easy but that's kind of what we enjoy."
Strangely enough, a tough game against a Western Conference powerhouse may be just what Miami needs going into the homestretch. The Heat clearly lacked a sense of urgency near the end of their winning streak, and it was so obvious that even the most powerful man in the world noticed.
"I just want you to know the Heat are going to be just fine," said President Barack Obama when asked about the NBA's hottest team back on Mar. 29. "They are playing basketball the right way."
Home-court advantage throughout the postseason is still up for grabs, and every game between now and the playoffs is vitally important for both Miami and San Antonio. Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra is already on record saying that he'll try to give his stars a game off here and there, but he may not have that luxury.
So while we aren't sure yet where Game 1 of the NBA Finals will be held, we already know which two teams will be participating. We'll just have to wait a couple of months before Heat-Spurs becomes a reality.