It is only right that the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat dance for a second straight time in the NBA Finals.
While the journey was thrilling, it was rather readily apparent both teams would be back for a rematch this year after all that separated both sides from the title in 2013 was a gimme miss by Tim Duncan that he knocks down 99 out of 100 times.
There are no legacies to cement here. Just two teams lined with future Hall of Famers looking to add to their resumes rather than suffer a crippling loss as the future comes into question. It's a poetic way to end a season as Gregg Popovich's team fades and the future is a question mark in Miami.
Let's take a look at how to catch the most captivating Finals series since...last year.
|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|
Biggest X-Factor: Dwyane Wade
It's hilarious the narratives that surround one Dwyane Wade, most notably the "old" moniker.
Tell that to Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, who are 38 and 36 years old, respectively. Wade is just 32.
At that 32, Wade remains the perfect sidekick to LeBron James—especially when he shoots 54.5 percent from the field and averages 19.8 points per game, as he did in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers.
Wade is healthy. The misconception that labels him as old is a result of nagging issues that are currently nowhere to be found. It's easy to forget that Wade equaled the highest shooting percentage for a 2-guard in the past 35 years this season.
Again, which he is. Playing deep into last June actually hurt Wade's recovery from nagging issues, but he says the plan worked, per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:
“A lot of guys in the NBA have five, six months to rest when they’re coming off an injury. I had two months. So instead of coming back into the season saying, ‘We’re going to wait until January before we get on the court,’ we came up with our plan.”
No kidding. Wade has seven games left in him at this point, and with so much attention transfixed on James, don't be surprised when No. 3 lights it up in each contest.
Unheralded Storyline That Will Matter Most: San Antonio's Depth
When a team plays the brand of basketball the Spurs bring to the court each night, it can be hard for any team to properly prepare for the variances.
The big names like Tony Parker, Duncan and Ginobili are known, but San Antonio's bench is what cripples opponents. Boris Diaw scored a team-high 26 points to close out the Oklahoma City Thunder recently. Justin Kroll of Variety puts it best:
The Heat certainly don't lack for sound depth, but it's different for a team that is accustomed to a guy like Diaw going off every now and then. Miami is used to relying on starters and does not bench them in favor of matchups—whereas Popovich is the best in the business at doing so.
It's a slight variance in philosophy that can swing the series in San Antonio's favor.
Player Who Wins the Series for His Team: Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi Leonard won't be at the top of the list in terms of San Antonio scoring options, but his defensive abilities will be what decides the series.
Leonard showed against the Thunder that he is the key via his ability to guard point guard Russell Westbrook and fluster the star to the point of his being a dud. That won't happen when Leonard picks up James, but the effect will still be apparent.
Just look at these numbers provided by Bleacher Report's Zach Buckley: "His floor presence has meant the difference between San Antonio having an elite defense (97.4 defensive rating when he's in the game, which would be second-best in the league) or one that's slightly above average (102.1 when he sits, would rank ninth)."
Leonard has grown over the course of the last year, and his ability on the defensive end of the court to help counter a superstar-laden team will play a large role in the outcome of each contest.
At this point, it seems almost impossible to predict how the rematch will play out.
On one hand, it is easy to peg James and Co. as underdogs. The inverse is also true given any of the superstars' ability to simply take a contest over when they get hot.
The deciding factor? Popovich.
Each player on the Spurs understands his role in a selfless manner after the best team in the NBA all season never saw a player average more than 30 minutes per game. That staggering depth and all-in attitude rallying around Popovich, in tandem with home-court advantage, will see the Spurs obtain redemption.
Prediction: Spurs in seven games.