After three rounds of glorious playoff basketball that included a plethora of thrilling finishes and overtime contests, the culmination is finally here: the 2014 NBA Finals.
The San Antonio Spurs are set to battle the Miami Heat as they seek revenge from last year's championship series.
It’s almost impossible to think of a better championship matchup than this one, which pits the NBA’s two best teams against each other in a rematch of the exhilarating seven-game clash from a year ago.
Both teams are playing some of their best basketball of the season, and with plenty of star power and juicy storylines, the appeal is undeniable. Will Tim Duncan claim his fifth ring after being so close in 2013? Will Miami capture the league’s first three-peat since the 2000-2002 Los Angeles Lakers?
We will soon find out, beginning with Game 1 on Thursday. Here's all the essential schedule information for the series opener.
When: Thursday, June 5, at 9 p.m. ET
Where: AT&T Center, San Antonio, Texas
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Spurs seek revenge
The championship series should be an instant classic and a true heavyweight bout. If this year’s matchup is anything like the 2013 NBA Finals, fans will be in for quite the ride.
The Spurs and Heat don’t like each other, and why would they? Each team stands in the other's way in the quest for a championship. San Antonio feels like it had its ring stolen from it a year ago, and Duncan, who is hardly known as a trash-talker, told ESPN that this year will be different:
It's unbelievable to regain that focus after that devastating loss that we had last year. But we're back here. We're excited about it. We've got four more to win. We'll do it this time. We're happy it's the Heat again. We've got that bad taste in our mouths still.
LeBron James wasn’t bothered by Duncan’s comments. He is just focused on the task at hand, per ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst:
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. They've been preparing for this moment, we have as well. No one is entitled. This is no one's championship. It isn't ours, it isn't theirs, it's two teams fighting for it.
With San Antonio's roster only getting older, its stars have to be approaching this series as one of their last chances, if not the last chance, at a title.
Location, location, location
For the first time since 1985, the NBA Finals will return to a 2-2-1-1-1 format, per the Associated Press (via NBA.com). This makes sense, considering every other round of the NBA playoffs follows this format.
The league initially instituted the 2-3-2 format to ease the burden of cross-country travel between teams. But after 29 years, there were concerns that the team with home-court advantage really didn’t have much of an advantage at all because it had to spend eight straight days on the road, including the always-pivotal Game 5.
The 2-2-1-1-1 format benefits everyone involved in 2014. The Spurs get the ultra-important Game 5 and Game 7 at home, which is a just reward for having the better record during the regular season. If Miami can steal one of the first two games in San Antonio, it knows it will get three of the next four games at home to try to close out the series. For basketball fans, the format resembles every other playoff series and there is added excitement in varying the playoff venues.
Location is critical to this series, considering the Heat and Spurs are a combined 17-1 at home in the postseason. Remarkably, San Antonio has won each of its last seven home playoff games by at least 17 points. Now that’s dominant.
If any team can manage a road victory early in the series, it will have a huge advantage going forward. Just don't expect that to happen.
I expect the Spurs to take care of business in San Antonio and protect their home floor to take a 2-0 series lead. But the Heat often play their best basketball when their backs are against the wall. Playing in the friendly confines of AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, the Heat earn a pair of much-needed victories to even the series at 2-2.
The Spurs, knowing the Heat could clinch the series in Miami if they lose Game 5 at home, play one of their best games of the playoffs behind a huge game from Manu Ginobili and take a 3-2 series lead. Down but not out, the Heat manage to stay alive with a crucial win in Game 6 to force a seventh and final game in San Antonio.
Behind a monster effort from the Big Three, Miami becomes the first team to win a road game, clinching Game 7, the series and its third consecutive NBA championship. LeBron gets his third ring in his quest to match Kobe Bryant (five), and potentially Michael Jordan (six), while the Spurs experience the heartbreak of losing Games 6 and 7 once again.
Follow Jesse Clark on Twitter.