In a championship series for the ages, Miami and San Antonio went seven games in the 2013 finals. In a star-powered comeback from a 3-2 deficit, the Heat came away with their second title in as many years, depriving the Spurs of their fifth since 1999.
Now San Antonio has a shot at redemption, this time with home-court advantage on its side. A Spurs victory will make their longevity all that much more impressive, while another Larry O'Brien trophy for the Heat would elevate them to the ranks of the greatest dynasties in NBA history.
|2014 NBA Finals TV Schedule|
|Date||Matchup||Start Time (ET)||Channel|
|Thu, June 5||Game 1: Heat at Spurs||9 p.m.||ABC|
|Sun, June 8||Game 2: Heat at Spurs||8 p.m.||ABC|
|Tue, June 10||Game 3: Spurs at Heat||9 p.m.||ABC|
|Thu, June 12||Game 4: Spurs at Heat||9 p.m.||ABC|
|Sun, June 15||Game 5: Heat at Spurs*||8 p.m.||ABC|
|Tue, June 17||Game 6: Spurs at Heat*||9 p.m.||ABC|
|Fri, June 20||Game 7: Heat at Spurs*||9 p.m.||ABC|
|*If necessary. Source: ESPN|
Even as they age, the Spurs somehow seem even stronger than they were last year, while the Heat have had a slightly harder time maintaining their world-beating form.
Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are yet again San Antonio's three leading scorers this postseason, providing the same staunch foundation they have for over a decade. Between Duncan's post presence, Parker's constant and methodical motion and Ginobili's creative freelancing, San Antonio's offense remains as potent as ever.
Now the old guard has even more help.
Kawhi Leonard has improved as a secondary ball-handler and facilitator. Patty Mills upped his scoring ability to power San Antonio's already sterling second unit. Boris Diaw gives Gregg Popovich a Swiss-Army-knife big who can do whatever is asked of him to pair with Duncan inside.
All that makes the intricate Spurs system run that much more amazingly.
The Spurs are as primed as possible for a title run, and, as Duncan said after winning the Western Conference finals, per ESPN.com, his team is glad to be in a position to avenge last season's defeat.
"It's unbelievable to regain that focus after that devastating loss that we had last year," San Antonio's Tim Duncan said. "But we're back here. We're excited about it. We've got four more to win. We'll do it this time.
"We're happy it's the Heat again. We've got that bad taste in our mouths still."
And the Heat still remember how difficult it is to beat the Spurs in four of seven, something that will be even harder with this season's supporting cast.
Gone is Mike Miller and his clutch playoff shooting, and Shane Battier has declined too much as a three-point threat to replicate it. Michael Beasley, Greg Oden and Toney Douglas have added nothing to Miami's championship efforts, leaving an ever-creakier returning roster to do the job.
But like their starrier counterparts in San Antonio, the Miami elders consistently find ways to come through.
Chris Andersen is once again bringing strength and energy to the rim area. Rashard Lewis has come out of nowhere to contribute at the small-ball power forward spot. And then there's Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, both of whom are healthier and closer to their best ability than they have been in recent postseasons.
With LeBron James at the peak of his powers as usual, Miami remains an elite team, as Erik Spoelstra keeps finding ways to highlight his superstars and cover his team's holes.
Gregg Popovich is doing the same as usual with the Spurs, maximizing San Antonio's team-oriented scheme and targeting opponent weaknesses so relentlessly that it becomes nearly impossible for anyone to counterattack.
It takes immense talent to do so, and James and the Heat do have what it takes. They proved as much in 2013, but the margin was so slim that a toss-up rebound and an instant-classic three were the difference between a Spurs win in six and a Heat win in seven.
These Heat can still reach greatness, but not as easily as last year's team could. The opposite is true for the Spurs, and though this series will be every bit as close, that will be enough to swing the rematch.
Spurs in seven.