We aren't worthy.
Last year's Finals matchup between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs turned into one of the most scintillating battles in recent memory, and now we get it again.
Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich are going for title No. 5. Dwyane Wade is going for No. 4. LeBron James and the Heat are going for the illustrious three-peat. Not only is this the first—and rightful, as these are undoubtedly the two best teams in the NBA—Finals rematch in 16 years, but it's one that will help define several legacies.
After a frenzied three rounds of playoff basketball, it's difficult to dream up a better culminating series than this one.
Let's take a closer look.
|2014 NBA Finals Schedule|
|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|
|*Denotes if necessary|
Spurs X-Factor: Danny Green
The depth and versatility of Popovich's team means there are a slew of options here.
Tony Parker leads the playoffs in drives per game, and his ability to penetrate and collapse the defense will be key in beating Miami's quick rotations. That makes the status of his sore ankle potentially series-changing.
Manu Ginobili, who was a mess during last year's Finals, looked like the Ginobili of old against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Kawhi Leonard is a game-changer on defense. Boris Diaw, I'm pretty sure, is French for "X-factor."
But for proof of Danny Green's importance, one only needs to look back to last year's Finals.
In San Antonio's three wins, the North Carolina product averaged 21.0 points and hit 17 of 28 shots (60.7 percent) from long distance. In the four losses, he averaged 8.75 points and shot 10-of-21 (47.6 percent) from deep, which includes a five-of-five effort in Game 2.
Even with abysmal performances in Games 6 and 7, though, it was a record-setting series, per NBA.com:
And he's the most likely candidate to do it again. In this year's playoffs, Green has knocked down 2.2 threes per game at a 48.1 percent clip. His effective field-goal percentage is a scorching 63.4 percent, best on the team. All of those numbers are major improvements on his regular-season output.
He's hardly just a specialist, though. Green is an extremely effective defender, and the Spurs are allowing an incredibly stingy 96.0 points per 100 possessions while he's on the court, which is second-best among qualified players in the playoffs.
Moreover, the Spurs are outscoring teams by 15.2 points per 100 possessions with the 26-year-old on the court, and that number ranks first in the postseason.
As Green goes, so will the Spurs.
Heat X-Factor: Rashard Lewis
The best plus-minus of the conference finals belonged to none other than Rashard Lewis, who amassed a plus-58 in just four games. Much of that came in Games 3 and 4 when he went plus-41 in 43 minutes despite shooting 0-of-7 for zero points, so it's probably safe to keep from calling Lewis the greatest player ever.
But his value is clear.
"LeBron, D-Wade, Chris Bosh and even Ray remain offensive guys on this team," Lewis said, via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel's Shandel Richardson. "Us, as a role players, we’ve got to go out there and defend, rotate and try to make it easier for these guys.”
In the last two games, though, Lewis has done more than just that: He knocked down nine of 16 three-pointers, finishing with a total of 31 points.
The 34-year-old isn't going to take over games. However, in addition to being able to guard multiple positions, he can stretch the court and make things easier for Miami's stars to operate.
When the Spurs and Heat met in January, Leonard didn't play, and Miami rolled to an easy 113-101 victory. When they met again in March, Leonard hounded James into 6-of-18 shooting for 19 points and five turnovers, as the Spurs won 111-87.
"(Leonard) was a pest," Tim Duncan told reporters after that game. "That's what we need him to be. He stuck his hand in there, knocked some balls away, got some steals, he contested shots. I think he did a great job overall in every aspect."
Leonard is undoubtedly the key. No one is going to fully contain LeBron, but as one of the most athletic and long wings in the game, the burgeoning superstar—who was dominant during last year's Finals—can at least slow him down.
With the Spurs clicking on every cylinder offensively (assuming Parker is healthy), that will prove to be the difference.
Home-court advantage—these teams have combined to go 17-1 at home this postseason—won't hurt, either.
Spurs in seven.