The Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs are set to clash in Game 1 of the 2013 NBA Finals on Thursday night, with the Eastern Conference and defending league champs looking for title No. 3 while their Western Conference counterparts are looking to win No. 4 in the "Big Three" era—No. 5 overall.
All eyes will be on Miami's tandem of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh as they lay claim to the league's next great dynasty, but San Antonio's threesome of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili have also been here on three different occasions.
Taking different paths to the NBA Finals, Miami handled Milwaukee and Chicago fairly easy in the first two rounds before the dogfight against Indiana commenced in the East finals. The Spurs swept the Los Angeles Lakers, looked human against Golden State and then got back to their dominant ways with another sweep against Memphis in the West finals.
San Antonio had a week to rest up its aging bodies for the winner of the East to come clean, while Miami can bank on the emotion of its Game 7 win over Indiana and home-court advantage in this 2-3-2 finals format.
All bets are off—this is where a new champion is crowned.
Thursday night will mark the opening game of the 2013 NBA Finals, and sparks are set to fly between these two franchises that own five of the last 10 NBA titles. Take a look at the sections below for a complete preview, predictions and a few other helpful tidbits as the series gets underway in South Beach.
NBA Finals Schedule
|Game||Date||Away Team||Home Team||TV Network||Time (ET)|
|1||Thursday, June 6||San Antonio Spurs||Miami Heat||ABC||9:00 p.m.|
|2||Sunday, June 9||San Antonio Spurs||Miami Heat||ABC||8:00 p.m.|
|3||Tuesday, June 11||Miami Heat||San Antonio Spurs||ABC||9:00 p.m.|
|4||Thursday, June 13||Miami Heat||San Antonio Spurs||ABC||9:00 p.m.|
|5*||Sunday, June 16||Miami Heat||San Antonio Spurs||ABC||8:00 p.m.|
|6*||Tuesday, June 18||San Antonio Spurs||Miami Heat||ABC||9:00 p.m.|
|7*||Thursday, June 20||San Antonio Spurs||Miami Heat||ABC||9:00 p.m.|
Note: Schedule via ESPN.com.
* denotes if necessary
|San Antonio Spurs||Miami Heat|
|2012-13 Regular |
|58-24 (3rd in NBA)||66-16 (led NBA)|
|Playoff Record |
(Thru 3 Rounds)
|Leading Scorer||Tony Parker (20.3)||LeBron James (26.8)|
|Finals Record||4-0 (1999 ,2003, 2005, 2007)||2-1 (2006, 2012)|
Impressive Stats to Watch
Heat After Loss
The Heat haven't lost two straight games since all the way back in January, when the Pacers and Portland Trail Blazers accomplished the feat together in the midst of a six-game West Coast road trip.
Since then, Miami has rebounded after losses quite impressively—the franchise has lost only nine games since then, and if you include the 128-99 win over Sacramento following the Portland loss, Miami has an average margin of victory of 19.9 points.
Miami has also not won a game by less than double digits during that 10-game, after-loss stretch, with the Charlotte Bobcats coming the closest via 10 points (the Heat were without James, Wade and Ray Allen in that April game).
What does this tell us?
For starters, it tells us that San Antonio is up against the odds in this series. Without home-court advantage, the Spurs will have to win at least two straight games to capture the title against one of the league's best teams after losses.
It also shows that Miami comes out with a vengeance after losing a game, so San Antonio will have to find a way to keep that Heat emotion bottled and not a factor in the outcome after winning at least one game in the series.
Spurs From Deep
Miami and San Antonio are both stellar three-point shooting teams if you look at the numbers from both the regular and postseason.
Miami (39.6) had the edge over San Antonio (37.6) during the regular season, but the playoffs have kept the Spurs as one of the league's most dangerous outside-shooting teams—SA trails only Golden State among playoff teams with a 36.2 percent mark from deep. Miami is right behind the Spurs at 35.6.
James, Wade, Shane Battier and the rest of Miami's defensive units are only allowing teams to shoot 32.5 percent from the outside in the playoffs, a mark that is the second-best number in basketball among playoff teams.
As noted by NBA.com's John Schuhmann, the three-point battle will likely help determine this series for both teams. It's vitally important that San Antonio, which doesn't have the physicality that Indiana possessed on the boards, hit open shots and force Miami to attack the three-point line on defense.
When that happens, Tony Parker is at his best, driving at creating opportunities for himself at the rim while Duncan, Tiago Splitter, Boris Diaw and others attack the space created close to the basket. For San Antonio to break the curse of "jump-shooting" teams struggling against Miami, it will have to find a way to employ the three as a weapon.
Miami Heat: SG Dwyane Wade
Wade is one of two members of the Heat to be around for all four Finals appearances (Udonis Haslem being the other), so he carries the weight of having the most experience with this franchise on the big stage.
Wade thrilled us all in 2006 by taking over the final four games of the finals against Dallas, and he has been integral in Miami's success throughout his lengthy career in town. With Bosh and James now on the roster, he's not counted on as much, which is likely a good thing because of injury concerns directly related to how he plays the game.
A non-factor in most of the series against Indiana, Wade had 21 points and nine rebounds as the Heat cruised to their Game 7 victory over the Pacers. It's a trend that has followed Wade around so far throughout the 2013 playoffs—when he plays well, the Heat usually win.
In Miami's four postseason losses, though, he's shot under 50 percent in each contest, had at least two turnovers in each game and hasn't been able to make a consistent impact on the glass (3.3 rebounds in those games).
While James carries the weight of the MVP award and the world's best player, Wade carries an even more important role to the Heat—he is the complementary piece to James, and he can be the best player on the floor when he heats up.
He can also hurt the Heat by struggling from mid-range and forcing up bad shots at the rim, so being the controlled, shifty Wade we've seen over the years will give Miami a leg up in the shooting guard department in this series. If not, questions of whether he deserves to be on the court will run rampant.
Wade played in only one game against the Spurs this year, posting 19 points, five rebounds and five assists in the team's first contest against San Antonio during the 2012-13 campaign.
San Antonio Spurs: SG Manu Ginobili
There's no one on the San Antonio roster more clutch or more worthy or shooting a shot that will pull his team into contention late in a game than Manu Ginobili, who has quietly put together a career worthy of consideration for the Hall of Fame one day.
His numbers might have dipped this season with the emergence of Danny Green as a reliable force in the starting lineup and injuries that limited him to just 60 games, but the 35-year-old hasn't been taxed so far and should be fresh for the finals moving forward.
The Spurs are the NBA's beacon of light when it comes to offensive efficiency, but the discipline of this team will come into question when Miami tightens the screws up on defense in the course of the series.
Without the athleticism to blow by defenders (with the exception of Tony Parker), the Spurs will have to rely on teamwork, ball movement and trust in head coach Gregg Popovich's system to outwit the Heat over the course of four wins.
Sometimes, they'll just need a playmaker to step up.
Ginobili has been the go-to guy when everyone in the building thinks the ball is going to Duncan or Parker late in the game, and his game-winner against Golden State in the second round might have saved San Antonio's season.
Taking on Wade, Allen and Battier in this series, San Antonio needs Ginobili to shine one more time.
Winner: Spurs in 6
While the Heat certainly have the edge in home-court advantage, owning the world's best player and the athleticism marks by a long shot, the Spurs are one of the NBA's great franchises for a reason—they make adjustments when it counts.
Golden State had the edge on San Antonio in the same departments that Miami will opening up this series, including lightning-quick guards that can make defenses pay and the ability to get out in transition and get easy baskets.
Rebounding is a stat that many will pay attention to and give Miami the edge at during this series, but it's actually San Antonio who has a better per-game average on the glass by over five boards per game. Both teams have a negative differential heading into the series, but this is a series where offensive rebounding for both teams can change a possession with long-reaching impacts.
There aren't many teams who could handle the week-long layoff that San Antonio just went through. The Spurs are one of only a handful of franchise that you don't equate rest to rust with, simply because they are the consummate franchise of discipline and success—not to mention the 30-somethings on the roster need the R and R.
While Miami has the trophy and the mantra of being the league's most exciting, most talked-about teams, San Antonio shouldn't be underestimated because the media markets haven't been to the Alamo as frequently as the beach.
In a back-and-forth series after four games, I think Game 5 goes to the Spurs in San Antonio. In a similar path that the Mavericks managed to take hold of their series with the Heat in 2011, that Game 5 win should give the Spurs enough momentum to bring home the title in Miami in Game 6.
Finals MVP: PG Tony Parker
With all due respect to LeBron James, Tony Parker was the hottest player in the first three rounds of the NBA playoffs (Paul George and Nate Robinson might have a case, too).
The three-time NBA champion has been lights-out in 14 playoff games so far, averaging 23.0 points and 7.2 assists per game, totaling two double-doubles and never scoring below 13 points in any of San Antonio's contests so far.
Shooting close to 50 percent from the field and even chipping in 37.5 percent of his threes, Parker has dominated opposing point guards who try to defend him, including Mike Conley, who he victimized for 37 points and six assists in San Antonio's close-out win over Memphis.
Parker was the MVP of the finals in 2007, and there's no reason his strong play shouldn't carry San Antonio in this series. One of the NBA's most underrated point guards will finally get some new hardware to display if the Spurs do indeed find a way to bring title No. 5 back to the Alamo City.
Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Ethan Grant on Twitter: