We're about to witness a classic NBA Finals when the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs rematch for the 2014 title.
The last time the Association featured the same Finals opponents in consecutive years, Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls capped off their dynasty with their sixth championship, downing John Stockton and Karl Malone's Utah Jazz yet again.
Now, we get another clash between two of the league's most successful franchises since Jordan's reign.
On the other side, the Spurs machine is running even more efficiently and beautifully this season, with Manu Ginobili returning to effectiveness alongside Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, and the role players around them have collectively taken a step forward.
Game 1 is going to be the start of something special. When these two teams face off again, the result will shape how this era is remembered in NBA lore.
|2014 NBA Finals Schedule|
|Date||Matchup||Start Time (ET)||Channel||Stream|
|Thu, June 5||Game 1: Heat at Spurs||9 p.m.||ABC||WatchABC|
|Sun, June 8||Game 2: Heat at Spurs||8 p.m.||ABC||WatchABC|
|Tue, June 10||Game 3: Spurs at Heat||9 p.m.||ABC||WatchABC|
|Thu, June 12||Game 4: Spurs at Heat||9 p.m.||ABC||WatchABC|
|Sun, June 15||Game 5: Heat at Spurs*||8 p.m.||ABC||WatchABC|
|Tue, June 17||Game 6: Spurs at Heat*||9 p.m.||ABC||WatchABC|
|Fri, June 20||Game 7: Heat at Spurs*||9 p.m.||ABC||WatchABC|
|Source: NBA.com *If necessary|
|2014 NBA Finals Odds|
|Game 1 Line||Series Odds|
|Spurs -3.5||Heat 10-11, Spurs 10-11|
Miami's Key to Game 1: Ray Allen
This series is the consummate toss-up, and San Antonio's slim Game 1 odds edge simply comes down to home-court advantage. To overcome that, Miami needs production from outside the Big Three.
Ray Allen has the best chance to be that guy in the Heat's most dangerous lineups.
When James and Bosh man the frontcourt together in super small-ball looks, San Antonio must severely contort its defense or risk compromising its offensive flow.
In order to keep two bigs on the floor, Duncan has to stray from the rim to check Bosh outside while the other Spurs forward needs to hide on a shooter so Kawhi Leonard can stay with LeBron.
Wade and any Heat point guard would torch a Boris Diaw or a Tiago Splitter off the bounce, leaving one of them to take Allen as his mark. Allen isn't even a severe threat on close-out blow-bys at this point in his career, making him the safest matchup option.
But he's also a master at flying around screens and getting shots off quickly and accurately. When one of the most deadly sharpshooters in basketball history is San Antonio's preferred hiding place, things can go south in a hurry for the Spurs.
The bigs' length could frustrate Allen, but if he starts nailing threes over mismatched defenders struggling to keep track of him, San Antonio has a major problem it might not be able to solve.
San Antonio's Key to Game 1: Boris Diaw
Fortunately for the Spurs, they have a Swiss Army knife of a power forward capable of executing such out-of-position tasks.
Dating back to his days when Diaw could use his length and quickness to credibly man up quicker guards, the 250-pounder still has enough agility to chase certain guys around the arc. Allen and Bosh both fall into that category, and for a few minutes at a time, he can even give Leonard a break and serve as the LeBron stopper.
On the other end, he has the most varied offensive game of any Spurs big man. Between his ability to knock down threes and put the ball on floor against slower opponents, he both provides spacing to clear the lane for Duncan and drivers, and he contorts the D to create openings for other shooters.
Diaw was more like a master of no trades last spring than a jack of all, but he's supercharging an already terrifying Spurs offense this postseason. His defense is still stopgap-caliber at best, but he's quietly a matchup nightmare for Miami's defense if it hopes to stop the other four guys around him.