The Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs are deadlocked in the NBA Finals entering Sunday evening's Game 5, essentially capping off the playoffs in a best-of-three fashion.
Legacies of many star players are on the line, and although the biggest names involved all have captured the Larry O'Brien Trophy at least once before, there is still plenty at stake.
This could mark the third different decade in which Tim Duncan's won an NBA title, and four-time league MVP LeBron James will face heavy scrutiny if he and his fellow stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh can't get it done.
Below is a look at the impending showdown in San Antonio's AT&T Center, along with predictions as to how the series will ultimately play out and who the Finals MVP will be.
Game 5 Prediction
It's really difficult to gauge how the rubber match in San Antonio will play out because of the juxtaposing blowout outcomes of the two previous games.
When the Spurs blew out the Heat by a score of 113-77 in Game 3, it looked as though the reigning NBA champions may bow out in five games and never make it back to South Beach.
However, Erik Spoelstra's squad responded with a supreme defensive effort and limited the explosion from sharpshooting Spurs guards Danny Green and Gary Neal. After the pair combined for 13 three-pointers in Game 3, they had just six thereafter.
ESPN.com's Henry Abbott highlights a key statistic in the series thus far that has helped San Antonio stay competitive:
After just 32 points in the paint in the previous contest, the Heat were far more aggressive, getting 50 points right around the rim most recently.
That was thanks to the contributions by Wade and Bosh, as Wade scored 32 points and Bosh had 20 to go along with 13 rebounds. Wade also had six assists to foster crisp ball movement and six steals in a superb effort on defense.
Miami has the benefit of James, and if Wade and Bosh figure as prominently as they did in Game 4, San Antonio has no chance.
In choosing between counting on Green and Neal or Wade and Bosh to pull through, I like the latter duo to be the difference-makers in helping the Heat take another one on the road.
Prediction: Heat 105, Spurs 98
Series Winner: Miami Heat in 6
Once the Heat wrap up a convincing victory on Sunday, the suspense will be halted in short order in their repeat bid.
The Miami crowd will be in a frenzy in the prospective closeout Game 6, and it also doesn't help the Spurs' cause that point guard is their biggest matchup advantage, yet Tony Parker is grinding through a hamstring injury.
Obviously Parker isn't going to sit out this close to San Antonio reaching the ultimate goal in the NBA, but he has said that there is a risk of tearing it. That should slow him down enough to make him a liability.
As great as Parker is, he's going to have to work to stay in front of the Heat's quick tandem of Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole, who are both also capable of hitting from outside.
San Antonio had just four turnovers in its Game 1 triumph but coughed it up 18 times in Game 4. Away from the friendly home confines, the Spurs will put up a strong fight with their backs against the wall, but the Heat will ultimately be crowned NBA champions yet again.
Finals MVP: LeBron James, SF, Miami Heat
When Duncan met James in the Finals back in 2007 when The King was on a hopelessly outmatched Cleveland Cavaliers squad, Duncan told James, "This will be your league soon."
Already arguably the greatest player in the game even before taking his talents to South Beach, the reign of LeBron has taken on a new form with his new squad.
This is the third consecutive year he's played in the Finals, and though he endured struggles in his initial trip, James came into his own last postseason in finally grabbing his first ring.
James had a difficult go at it in the first three games in this series but ratcheted up his play in the last contest, pouring in 33 points to complement 11 rebounds and four assists.
It was a stat line that suggested unprecedented Finals aggressiveness from James, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Gregg Popovich is as good a mind as anyone in defending James, but he won't be able to deny him a second consecutive championship.
As James said in the video above, it's time for the Heat to stop trading wins and losses and finish the season off in characteristically dominant fashion. Winning takes care of most other accolades, and it will result in a second straight Finals MVP for James.
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