These two teams battled for seven games last season with the Heat barely coming away with its second NBA title in a row. No matter who wins in Game 1 on Thursday, you can be certain that these two veteran teams will find a way to keep the series competitive as it likely goes the distance once again.
However, it is important to look past the score in the first game to figure out what to expect for the rest of the series. There are a bunch of question marks for both sides that will not be answered until the teams step onto the court for the first time.
Whichever squad does a better job of solving these problems will have a leg up in the series regardless of who actually wins the first game.
Can the Spurs Defend LeBron James?
When it comes to stopping the Heat, the biggest task is slowing down LeBron James. Obviously, this is no easy feat as the four-time MVP has proven to be the best player on the planet over the past few years.
Still, the Spurs have to do their best to try to stop him from simply taking over the game as he has done so many times in his career.
As Tim Duncan explained to Jason Lieser of The Palm Beach Post, Kawhi Leonard will get the job:
Jeff Caplan of NBA.com also noted that Leonard will not be using Lance Stephenson-esque gimmicks to slow him down:
Instead of blowing in his opponent's ear, Leonard will use his length with his 6'7" frame to keep a hand in James' face at all times. He has been extremely impressive on the defensive end of the court and his work ethic will make sure there are no easy shots against him.
On the other hand, Leonard struggled at times to contain James in last year's finals:
It is obviously difficult for anyone to keep the superstar down for too long. However, the NBA All-Defensive Second Team player will do his best to at least force James to pass the ball. If Leonard can do that, the Spurs have a good chance of winning this series.
How Healthy is Tony Parker?
Tony Parker is the Spurs' best offensive weapon. Not only can he create opportunities for himself on offense as well as anyone in the game, but he also is an excellent distributor who always seems to make the right play with the play.
Unfortunately, he is limited by an ankle injury, which forced him to miss the second half of Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Although San Antonio was able to survive without him and earn the win, it is not something the squad plans on doing in the finals.
The extra few days of rest helped Parker get healthy and he is expected to play, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. However, it still remains to be seen how effective he will be on the court.
According to Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News, the point guard explained, "I'll do my best to feel the best I can and give everything I've got for the first game." This is encouraging for his effort, but it does not necessarily prove his ability.
There are certainly people who think the Spurs can win without their leading scorer, like ESPN's Skip Bayless:
However, it will be tough for Patty Mills to fill Parker's shoes, especially in clutch situations late in games. If Parker does not show the ability to compete at least 80 percent health, it will be tough for San Antonio to win this series.
Can Dwyane Wade Continue His Strong Play?
Although Dwyane Wade was once considered one of the top players in the NBA, a few years' worth of injuries have ended this notion. However, the talented guard is playing as well as he has in a while, which makes the Heat extremely dangerous.
After missing about one-third of the regular season, Wade has played all 15 games this postseason and has been an excellent secondary scorer behind James. He is currently averaging 18.7 points per game on 51.9 percent shooting from the field, including 38.9 percent from behind the arc.
Jorge Sedano of ESPN believes his health will be the difference in the series:
Then again, it will take more than just being on the floor to help Miami. Wade has to showcase the same efficiency on both ends of the court to topple the team with the best record in the NBA this past season.
ESPN.com's Royce Young points out that the veteran guard is basically the X-factor in this series:
[The Heat will win this series if] Dwyane Wade plays at his highest level of the postseason. And that's saying something, because Wade has been tremendous thus far. But the Heat's bench is largely thinned, and expecting considerable production there is iffy. It's going to be about how good Miami's Big Three can be. We have a pretty good idea what LeBron is going to bring, and the same goes for Chris Bosh. But the unknown is Wade.
We will know right away in Game 1 if Wade is capable of helping Miami win this series or if he will be just another role player on the team.
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