The 2014 NBA Finals figure to be an epic rematch between the San Antonio Spurs and the two-time reigning champion Miami Heat. The Spurs fell in seven games last year and will be on the prowl for revenge this time around, especially with an aging core of superstars.
There was at least some doubt as to whether San Antonio could make it back here entering the 2013-14 campaign, but coach Gregg Popovich's squad once again found a way to make another deep playoff run. Miami had a rather easy road through the meager Eastern Conference, while the Spurs managed to live up to the hype as the No. 1 seed in the West in returning to the ultimate stage in pro basketball.
It's essentially a tossup as to who will come out on top this time around. General odds and widespread polls as to who hoists the Larry O'Brien Trophy should be approximately 50-50. An obvious vengeance factor exists for San Antonio, but Miami is chasing a three-peat.
Here is a look at the odds, which currently favor the Heat, followed by a preview and prediction for the NBA Finals.
|San Antonio Spurs||20-27||-135|
NBA Finals Preview and Prediction
The lack of elite competition the Heat faced en route to the Finals may end up hurting them—at least at the outset of the series. San Antonio has had plenty of motivation to get back here, hoping for a shot to dethrone Miami, which may allow the Spurs to get out to a key 2-0 lead with home-court advantage.
Following a series-clinching Game 6 overtime victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in the conference finals, Spurs legend Tim Duncan expressed his gratitude to get another crack at the Heat.
"We’re happy that it’s the Heat again," said Duncan, per The New York Times' Billy Witz. "We’ve got that bad taste in our mouths. We’re back now, and we want to get it done."
Then again, this is what the defending champions have been preparing for all year. Neither nucleus—or overall roster, for that matter—changed much between last year's Finals and now. Since Miami came out on top last time, it makes sense that it retains its status as the slight favorite.
Jason Lieser of The Palm Beach Post highlights how similar the rosters are from last year's matchup:
Spurs-Heat is as true a rematch as you can get: 15 of the 17 players that appeared in Game 7 last year are back.— Jason Lieser (@PBPjasonlieser) June 1, 2014
This championship clash could determine whether Heat All-Stars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh keep their collective talents in South Beach. Given their success in appearing in four consecutive NBA finales, it's hard to fathom that they would break up, especially with so few formidable foes in the East.
As for San Antonio, these Finals may mark the last ride for Duncan and sixth-man extraordinaire Manu Ginobili. The Spurs seem to have the pieces in place to at least be competitive after the end of this exceptional era, yet the experience among their current core is invaluable, especially in facing such a tough opponent in the Heat.
That was no more evident than when Parker went down with an ankle injury in the final game against the Thunder. Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch felt the Spurs were doomed without their stud point guard in the lineup for the last part of that contest:
I was wrong on Game 7. What an effort by the Spurs without Tony Parker. They are as good as it gets for a U.S. sports franchise.— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) June 1, 2014
ESPN's Skip Bayless noted how Parker's absence from the floor—he's reportedly hopeful to play in Game 1 of the Finals, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski—can actually give San Antonio an added dynamic:
I've said this all season: As much as I mostly love Tony Parker, the Spurs can be more explosive offensively and stronger on D w/o him.— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) June 1, 2014
How will the NBA Finals play out?
But when the games come down to the wire, great offense beats even the best defense. Those 50-50 situations in which both parties do all they can, and the ball goes through the hoop, characterizes how these Finals should play out.
It also helps make an appropriate, analogous comparison in examining the odds. James and Wade can both create better than anyone, and Miami has the speed along the perimeter to quell the Spurs' ball movement in half-court sets when it really needs a stop. That should help boost the Heat to yet another title—this time in six games.
Michael Wallace of ESPN, who goes against the pick of yours truly, weighed in on how much this Finals rematch would define James' place in history:
The objective pick has to be Spurs in 7. One thing I'm certain of is Heat-Spurs II will define LeBron's legacy like no other series.— Michael Wallace (@WallaceNBA_ESPN) June 1, 2014
The same goes for Duncan and the Spurs, if they were to somehow pull it off.
Duncan is already arguably the best power forward in NBA history, and adding another championship this late in his career against James and Co. would bolster his status in the all-time Association hierarchy. It would also elevate Popovich's profile among the best coaches the game has ever seen.
But as for James, a third ring would bring him halfway to the total that Michael Jordan reached. So often compared to Jordan and talked about as perhaps morphing into the best player ever, James has not even hit his 30s yet. Although the road wasn't as arduous for James to return to the 2014 Finals, it will all be made up for with a stiff test—and ultimately, a triumph—against the Spurs.
Prediction: Heat win in six games