To win their fifth championship in franchise history, the San Antonio Spurs will have to slay a familiar beast in the Miami Heat, the two-time defending champions who snared victory from the jaws of defeat a year ago in the shot heard around the world.
Having won the last two NBA titles, the Heat are hungry to make history. But following another brilliant regular season, the Spurs will have home-court advantage in their favor this time around.
Below you'll find a complete breakdown of this year's NBA Finals schedule as well as some storylines to watch for heading into Thursday's Game 1.
|2014 NBA Finals Viewing Info|
|Date||Matchup||Start Time (ET)||Channel||Live Stream|
|Thu, June 5||Game 1: Heat at Spurs||9 p.m.||ABC||WatchESPN|
|Sun, June 8||Game 2: Heat at Spurs||8 p.m.||ABC||WatchESPN|
|Tue, June 10||Game 3: Spurs at Heat||9 p.m.||ABC||WatchESPN|
|Thu, June 12||Game 4: Spurs at Heat||9 p.m.||ABC||WatchESPN|
|Sun, June 15||Game 5: Heat at Spurs*||8 p.m.||ABC||WatchESPN|
|Tue, June 17||Game 6: Spurs at Heat*||9 p.m.||ABC||WatchESPN|
|Fri, June 20||Game 7: Heat at Spurs*||9 p.m.||ABC||WatchESPN|
|*if necessary. Source: ESPN|
Top Storylines Ahead of Championship Rematch
Tony Parker's Health
For all their talent and depth, the Spurs' title hopes rest on the shoulders of Tony Parker, an MVP candidate who's averaging 17.2 points and 4.9 assists per game this postseason.
The 32-year-old point guard is currently battling a sore ankle, which kept him out of the second half of San Antonio's series-clinching win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals.
However, according to sources close to the team, per Yahoo Sports, via ESPN.com, Parker "would be ready" to suit up and play at full speed in Game 1 on Thursday night. According to those same sources, the veteran floor general will spend the days leading up to the series opener rehabbing the ankle.
Head coach Gregg Popovich recently discussed how the injury was affecting Parker his last time out, per ESPN.com: "He came to me with about eight minutes on the clock and said he couldn't go. He couldn't cut. He was limping on it. He couldn't cut sideways or forward really."
|Tony Parker 2013-14 Playoffs Series-by-Series Breakdown|
|Round 1 vs. Dallas Mavericks||19.9||4.7||47.2||33.3|
|WCSF vs. Portland Trail Blazers||18.4||5.2||50.6||42.9|
|WCF vs. Oklahoma City Thunder||13.2||4.8||49.3||28.6|
Despite delivering monumental performances through the first two rounds of the playoffs, Parker was a shell of himself at times during the Western Conference Finals. Therefore, the injury is sure to remain a key topic if he struggles at all in these NBA Finals.
With sources close to the Spurs appearing optimistic that Parker will be able to play, there's no doubt Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra will be designing a game plan intended to slow the Frenchman. After all, Miami was most successful in last year's NBA Finals when it was able to keep Parker under wraps, winning Games 6 and 7 as Parker combined to shoot 9-of-35 from the field in those two matchups.
Heat Chasing History
The Miami Heat became just the third franchise in NBA history to reach four consecutive NBA Finals when they knocked off the Indiana Pacers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals last week, per NBA on ESPN. Now the back-to-back champions are four wins away from becoming just the fourth franchise in NBA history to complete the three-peat.
In addition to propelling the Heat franchise into a rare air alongside the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls and Spurs as one of only a handful of teams to have won at least four NBA titles, another third-straight championship would leave a lasting mark on the legacy of Miami's Big Three—LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh—who have yet to miss an NBA Finals since they came together in the summer of 2010.
|Teams to Win 3 or More NBA Titles Consecutively|
|Team||Most Consecutive Titles||Three-peat Years|
|Chicago Bulls||3||1991-93, 1996-98|
|Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers||3||1952-1954, 2000-02|
James, who has often been discussed in the same breath as all-time greats like Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, would have the same number of championship rings as Larry Legend and would be just one more three-peat shy of tying Jordan.
But while much of the conversation will center on the Big Three, there's plenty at stake for Miami's role players, especially Ray Allen. The 38-year-old sharpshooter single-handedly saved the Heat from bitter disappointment in last year's NBA Finals and could perhaps head off into the sunset at season's end as not only the league's all-time greatest three-point shooter, but as a three-time NBA champion as well.
While legacies will be shaped on the Spurs' side as well in this series, the Heat are the team in position to make history this June.
Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter.