It's the rematch the NBA deserved—and many of us wanted.
After a classic seven-game series in the 2012-13 NBA Finals, the San Antonio Spurs will once again face off against the Miami Heat with plenty on the line in terms of legacies. San Antonio is looking to secure a fifth ring for Tim Duncan—Miami attempting to claim a rare three-peat.
It took the Spurs and Heat six games apiece to get through their respective conference finals. Both teams enter the NBA Finals well-tested.
The Spurs' Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have welcomed a fourth emerging star into the ranks: Kawhi Leonard. But more than any star power, San Antonio will again depend upon a deep, ensemble effort.
Whatever happens, don't be surprised to see this one go seven games...again.
Seeds: Miami Heat, No. 2; San Antonio Spurs, No. 1
Series: No games played yet.
Schedule: Game 1, Thursday, June 5, 9 p.m. ET (ABC); Game 2, Sunday, June 8, 8 p.m. ET (ABC); Game 3, Tuesday, June 10, 9 p.m. ET (ABC); Game 4, Thursday, June 12, 9 p.m. ET (ABC); Game 5*, Sunday, June 15, 8 p.m. ET (ABC); Game 6*, Tuesday, June 17, 9 p.m. ET (ABC); Game 7*, Friday, June 20, 9 p.m. ET (ABC)
Key Storyline for Miami Heat
Dwyane Wade still has plenty left in the tank. And we're not just talking about his ability to play. We're talking about his ability to play at an extremely high level.
Wade averaged an efficient 19.8 points per contest against the Indiana Pacers, cashing in on 54.5 percent of his field-goal attempts. He found other ways to contribute on both ends of the floor as well—tallying 4.7 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game.
The world keeps waiting for Wade's wheels to come off, in part because he's had enough injury problems to fill an entire career. But the 32-year-old keeps on ticking, and so too do the Heat.
Wade's crafty in-between game will give San Antonio plenty of headaches. Danny Green is a capable defender, but there's only so much you can do to a guy who's willing and able to pull up and sink mid-range jumpers.
Nor will Wade be deterred by San Antonio's bigs thanks to his ability to finish with a variety of floaters and layups in the lane.
James remains this team's undisputed leader, but he'll need help from his sidekick to put away the Spurs and their superior depth. So far, Wade looks every bit the part.
Key Storyline for San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio's depth has been the story all season long. Though rotations typically shorten during the postseason, head coach Gregg Popovich has continued to rely heavily on bench contributors such as Manu Ginobili, Boris Diaw and backup point guard Patty Mills.
Even Aron Baynes and Cory Joseph have had their moments during this postseason, stepping in because of either injury or matchup requirements.
Popovich famously inserted Matt Bonner into the starting lineup in place of Tiago Splitter for the all-important Game 5 against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Though Bonner didn't score in that game, he helped spread the floor and keep San Antonio's offense humming.
Boris Diaw was the star of Game 6 against OKC, dropping 26 points and showing off a smooth inside and outside game.
And Ginobili has been steady, more so even than he was a season ago.
Having so many options creates problems for the opposition. Miami never knows who's going to step up for San Antonio on any given night. And yet, the Heat can rest assured that someone will step up. That's what's made San Antonio great these last couple of seasons.
It was a tale of two series for Chris Bosh against the Pacers. He scored just nine points in each of the first three games but finished the series strong, combining for 70 points through the final three contests.
Bosh's consistency hinges largely on his outside shot falling. In turn, Miami's offense runs much more smoothly when Bosh is a threat. He spaces the floor and opens up driving lanes for James and Wade.
While he'll be judged primarily o his offensive contributions, Bosh will quietly be pivotal on the defensive end. If we've learned anything during this postseason, it's that Tim Duncan still has it. He won't put up huge numbers on a nightly basis, but he's still a threat to surpass 20 on any given occasion.
While the Spurs still rely on their veteran core of contributors (plus Kawhi Leonard), their X-factor is a collective one. They need their three-ball to fall on a consistent basis. That can come from a variety of sources, but two are especially pivotal: Danny Green and Manu Ginobili.
San Antonio's shooting guard duo can be lethal when given space. It also profits from ball and personnel movement, two things Miami will key in on from the outset. The Heat's advantage is its length and athleticism, the ability to play passing lanes and disrupt San Antonio's ensemble machine.
The Spurs' advantage is that they've dealt with similar length and athleticism throughout the postseason, and they made it this far.
Key Matchup: LeBron James vs. Kawhi Leonard
No one stops James altogether, but Leonard is one of the few perimeter defenders out there who might actually slow him down. The 22-year-old has the physical tools—the quickness, strength and length—to make an impact. He also has the defensive pedigree, often taking on the opposition's toughest assignment.
Leonard will also be better prepared to make James work on both ends of the floor this season. He got off to a slow start in last season's NBA Finals but finished strong with 22 points in Game 6 and another 19 in Game 7.
Since then, Leonard has become a more integral component of San Antonio's offense and could keep James at least somewhat occupied.
Still, James will come into this matchup with an overwhelming advantage. Kevin Durant may have been named this season's MVP, but few would dispute that James still ranks as the best all-around player on the planet.
He's coming off a Game 6 in which he scored 25 points in just 32 minutes. After scoring a career playoff low seven points in a foul-plagued Game 5, James bounced back in a big way. He was aggressive early and often in the series finale, tallying six assists and efficiently converting on eight of 12 field-goal attempts.
He was just 2-of-10 from the field in Game 5.
James is as reliable as it gets, and it's hard to see him having an off game at any point in the NBA Finals, much less in an important Game 1 that could set the tone for the series. Good as the emergent Leonard is, he'll have his hands full in this series.
The San Antonio Spurs have been tested as much as any team in the postseason. Expect them to be ready from the outset of the Finals. Whether they can keep up with Miami for the duration of the series is the big unknown.
But the Spurs will be ready for whatever the Heat throw at them in Game 1. And they'll be at home, where they've been pretty good of late.
One unknown is the status of Tony Parker's ankle. He didn't return for the second half of Game 6 against OKC on account of soreness, and continued pain could prove seriously detrimental to San Antonio's chances in Game 1 and beyond.
Assuming Parker plays pain-free, however, the series debut is the Spurs' to lose.
Prediction: Spurs defeat Heat, 105-94
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