After a wild ride through the playoffs, a rematch of last year's NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs provides a fitting conclusion.
As the Heat look to take the title home once more, the Spurs seek redemption in this grudge match. We couldn't ask for a better finale.
So, which team has the best chance to bask in the glory this time around?
Well, oddsmakers have already been hard at work to determine which squad appears to be the favorite before the Finals get underway.
Let's take a look at the current championship odds and predict if it will be the Heat or Spurs left standing once the dust settles.
|San Antonio Spurs||5-6|
Current championship odds courtesy of Vegas Insider.
It doesn't get much more even than that. The Spurs appear to be the slight favorite according to oddsmakers—which could simply be attributed to the team's home-court advantage—but the Heat aren't necessarily an underdog with even odds.
However, home-court advantage could play a big role in the Finals. ESPN's Skip Bayless certainly thinks it will:
Heat were 22-19 on road. Spurs were 30-11 on road. Spurs in 6 in Miami.— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) June 2, 2014
With the teams so evenly matched in oddsmakers' eyes, what are the factors that may come into play, giving one team the upper hand?
One big name to keep an eye on for the Spurs is the availability of Tony Parker. He was forced to miss the second half of San Antonio's Game 6 overtime thriller against the Oklahoma City Thunder with a sprained left ankle.
According to a report from Marc Stein of ESPN.com, early indications are hinting toward Parker suiting up in Game 1 of the Finals:
The San Antonio Spurs expect to have Tony Parker in the lineup Thursday when they host the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, according to sources close to the situation.
The San Antonio Express-News quoted a source Sunday saying that Parker "absolutely" will be ready to play in Game 1 despite an ankle injury that plagued him for much of the Western Conference finals.
That's good news for the Spurs, given that Parker averaged 14.0 points, 5.5 assists and 1.5 steals over two games against Miami this year.
If he isn't 100 percent, expect his production to be limited. This situation is certainly something to monitor going forward.
Should Parker open the series healthy, he'll provide a great complement to post extraordinaire Tim Duncan and the budding Kawhi Leonard. Both were fantastic against the Thunder on both ends of the court and must be instrumental in the Finals to contain LeBron James.
Speaking of James, an interview with Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com suggests he's all business at the moment:
They don't like us, they don't. I can sense it from Timmy's comments over the last couple of days. They wanted this, they wanted us and we'll be ready for the challenge.
[Duncan's comments] don't bother me. Once you get on the floor, you've got to play. We're confident. We're not shying away from them. We want them, too. I don't think it's personal. Like they said, we left a sour taste in their mouth.
NBA legend Magic Johnson tweeted his own thoughts on these teams:
I personally like that the Spurs & Heat don't like each other. It will make the NBA Finals exciting!— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) June 3, 2014
Containing James will be priority No. 1 for the Spurs. In two contests earlier this year, LeBron was able to flourish in a number of ways. He averaged 18.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 1.5 steals over those games.
James must be wary of getting into foul trouble, though. The Spurs will be highly aggressive, and James averaged 4.5 personal fouls per game against San Antonio earlier this season—far higher than his average of 1.6 over the season.
To keep up his productivity and stay away from unnecessary contact, James will need a great deal of help from his supporting cast.
Chris Bosh struggled early in Miami's series against the Indiana Pacers, scoring just nine points in each of the first three games. However, he turned it on in a big way in Games 4, 5 and 6, scoring 25, 20 and 25 points, respectively.
Bosh found his stroke from downtown in those games, making him a serious threat from all over the court. Keeping up this momentum will be crucial for the Heat—especially due to the ongoing concerns regarding Dwyane Wade's endurance.
Wade is healthy right now, but can he remain that way through a physical series against the Spurs? That question will remain in the back of everyone's minds.
According to an interesting tweet from ESPN Stats & Info, should Wade—or any Heat starter—miss time, the team could be in a bit of trouble:
Spurs bench is averaging 42.7 PPG this postseason. That's over 16 PPG better than Heat bench— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 3, 2014
Taking all of this into consideration, it's incredible to think how evenly matched these two teams really are.
It's difficult to think this series won't go the distance once again in 2014. Last year, the Heat took Game 7 in Miami. This year, the table are turned, as the teams would take the court at AT&T Center in San Antonio in a seventh and deciding game.
This will be an exhilarating, back-and-forth contest for seven games, with the Spurs celebrating in the confetti this time around.
Spurs in seven.