When LeBron James joked during the introduction of the Miami Heat's Big Three that he would win "not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven" championships, it seemed braggadocious to say the least.
Now he's knocking on the door once again, and only a few more wins stand between the Heat and a rare three-peat. Here is the full schedule and TV information for the NBA Finals, plus a survey of the biggest storylines and predictions for the big winner.
|NBA Finals TV Schedule|
|1||San Antonio/Oklahoma City||Thursday, June 5||9 p.m.||ABC|
|2||San Antonio/Oklahoma City||Sunday, June 8||8 p.m.||ABC|
|3||Indianapolis/Miami||Tuesday, June 10||9 p.m.||ABC|
|4||Indianapolis/Miami||Thursday, June 12||9 p.m.||ABC|
|5 (if necessary)||San Antonio/Oklahoma City||Sunday, June 15||8 p.m.||ABC|
|6 (if necessary)||Indianapolis/Miami||Tuesday, June 17||9 p.m.||ABC|
|7 (if necessary)||San Antonio/Oklahoma City||Friday, June 20||9 p.m.||ABC|
Making History and Eternal Return
The Heat stand on the precipice of a rare feat, as no team has been to four consecutive NBA Finals since the Boston Celtics from 1984 through 1987, and they failed to claim back-to-back titles, which LeBron already has in his back pocket. Not even the Chicago Bulls of the '90s or the millennial Los Angeles Lakers managed four straight trips to the finals.
Scintillating subplots abound in the potential matchups between the four remaining teams. If the Heat reach their fourth NBA Finals in a row, they will find either a rematch of their championship-round clash from 2012 or 2013.
They dispatched Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games two years ago. Last June, Ray Allen's clutch three-pointer averted a crushing Game 6 loss before the Heat prevailed over the San Antonio Spurs in seven games.
Had Allen misfired on that triple and the Heat lost, the estimation of LeBron would be transformed considerably. Instead of a back-to-back champion, he'd have failed on the biggest stage two out of three years.
New Kids on the Block
The Indiana Pacers have struggled mightily to carve out their team identity. After establishing themselves as a hard-nosed team built on defense and physicality, like an Eastern version of the Memphis Grizzlies, they suddenly revealed psychological weaknesses during their late-season swoon and wildly inconsistent performances during the playoffs.
The No. 1 seed needed seven games to get by the Atlanta Hawks, the only team in the postseason with a losing record. Then David West had to will them by the Washington Wizards with a slew of mid-range jumpers.
The Pacers survived elimination by the skin of their teeth in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, which required Paul George to score 21 of his 37 points in the fourth quarter. Indy barely forced Game 6 despite LeBron battling foul trouble all night and finishing with seven points on 10 shots.
This team does not have the mettle for the NBA Finals yet. They must look long and hard in the mirror to determine their team identity and address mental weaknesses that have George whining about officiating, Roy Hibbert blaming his coach and Lance Stephenson clowning his opponents.
Head coach Frank Vogel is not the problem in Indy, but he could be turned into the scapegoat during the offseason gut check.
The Heat will be back in the NBA Finals (see above criticism of Pacers), and they will take on San Antonio once again. Despite the Spurs' limp effort in losing Games 3 and 4 in Oklahoma City, they still have home-court advantage and a substantial championship pedigree.
Manu Ginobili has played well after looking like a warmed-up corpse last postseason. San Antonio will adjust to the presence of Serge Ibaka and learn from the mistakes made during the dreadful away losses. Champions take such failure as a wake-up call and move swiftly to correct it.
The Spurs are better suited to face the Heat than the Thunder. While they do not have a player approaching the versatility of LeBron, the sum total of the Spurs' parts offers slightly more than the Heat. The bench is slightly better, the point guard is much better, the power forward is much better and the coach has been down this road countless times.
The Spurs practically had their hands on another championship trophy last year, but they frittered away the lead and came up empty. This postseason, they played better basketball than any team for two rounds, but speedy OKC poses a unique matchup quandary for them.
After surviving the conference finals, the Spurs won't blink when their shot at revenge on Miami arrives.
Prediction: Spurs defeat Heat in 7