After a classic battle that went down to the wire in last year's NBA Finals, the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs have already picked up where they left off in the 2014 edition.
Game 1 of the series looks like a blowout on paper since the Spurs won by 15 points, but it was a much closer game than that. The Spurs broke things open in the closing minutes after Heat star LeBron James left the game with cramps, so things figure to get much tighter as the series progresses.
Last year's series provided seven can't-miss games, and there is every reason to believe that will be true this year as well. With that in mind, here is the full television viewing schedule for the remainder of the 2014 NBA Finals along with odds, picks and players to watch moving forward.
Remaining NBA Finals Schedule
|Date||Matchup||Start Time (ET)||Channel||Pick|
|Sunday, June 8||Game 2: Heat at Spurs||8 p.m.||ABC||MIA|
|Tuesday, June 10||Game 3: Spurs at Heat||9 p.m.||ABC||MIA|
|Thursday, June 12||Game 4: Spurs at Heat||9 p.m.||ABC||SA|
|Sunday, June 15||Game 5: Heat at Spurs*||8 p.m.||ABC||MIA|
|Tuesday, June 17||Game 6: Spurs at Heat*||9 p.m.||ABC||SA|
|Friday, June 20||Game 7: Heat at Spurs*||9 p.m.||ABC||MIA|
Source: NBA.com *if necessary
NBA Finals Odds (via VegasInsider.com)
|San Antonio Spurs||1-2|
Top Players to Watch in Series
Even more so than the Spurs' victory in Game 1, the conversation focused on the air conditioning malfunction at AT&T Center in San Antonio and the impact it had on LeBron. James was enjoying a spectacular outing before he was forced to leave with cramps, so he was understandably upset after the game, according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com.
For obvious reasons, I was angry, I was disappointed in myself. I did everything that I needed to do to prepare for this game, prepare for this moment and to feel like my body failed me. ... I was angry in the fact that I couldn't help my team get over the hump. In a huge Game 1, I wanted to make a statement.
If there was any question about LeBron's importance to the Heat's success in the NBA Finals before cramps knocked him out of Game 1, this graphic courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info eliminates it:
LeBron James left Game 1 up 2 with 7:31 left in the 4th. The Spurs outscored the Heat by 17 the rest of the way pic.twitter.com/JggGfJesE3— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 6, 2014
The Spurs were essentially unstoppable without James on the court, partially because the Heat had to be demoralized without their leader in the lineup. LeBron should be ready to go in Game 2, though, and he will have a chip on his shoulder after being publicly criticized for cramping up.
James is dangerous enough without any motivation at all, but with the Heat trailing one game in the NBA Finals and naysayers speaking out, he has every reason to come through with a dominant performance.
The Heat can only go as far as LeBron takes them, but there is no reason why he can't put the team on his shoulders and lead them to a third consecutive title. It will take a total team effort for the Spurs to shut LeBron down moving forward, but they may be the one team in the NBA capable of keeping him in check.
Which player is the biggest key to the NBA Finals?
The Spurs thrive largely due to their overall depth and ability to get production up and down the lineup. When push comes to shove, though, veterans Tony Parker and Tim Duncan are San Antonio's money players. Duncan is a constant, but Parker has been a question mark at times this year due to injury.
Parker recovered from an ankle injury in time to suit up for Game 1 of the NBA Finals, and he made a huge difference as he scored 19 points and dished out a team-high eight assists. Parker has always been a great performer on the big stage and he found a way to raise his game despite likely not being 100 percent in Game 1.
Among those who view Parker as the Spurs' biggest key to ending the Heat's title streak is ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale:
.@tonyparker will play - a must 4 Spurs to win 5 th title under Coach Popovich - He is the catalyst 4 the Spurs— Dick Vitale (@DickieV) June 4, 2014
The Spurs had a massive advantage in point guard play in Game 1 as Heat point man Mario Chalmers had five personal fouls and played just 17 minutes. Parker is a cagey veteran who will take advantage of that every time, so Chalmers will have to be more disciplined moving forward.
If he isn't, then Parker still has enough left in the tank to make this a miserable series for the Heat.
LeBron may be the unquestioned leader of the Heat, but Dwyane Wade is a hugely important supporting star. Even though injuries have plagued D-Wade for the past couple of years, he raises his level of play in the NBA Finals. Wade seemed to be doing that once again in Game 1 as he came out firing, but he seemed to tire as the game went on.
As pointed out by Tom Haberstroh of ESPN.com, Wade lost his explosion and the pep in his step after a hot start to the contest:
Dwyane Wade's got no legs right now. No lift on the jumper and just let Manu breeze by him.— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) June 6, 2014
Only Chris Bosh's 34 minutes were more than the 33 minutes Wade played for the Heat in Game 1. As tough as it is to take a gamer like Wade off the floor, perhaps head coach Erik Spoelstra will have to manage his minutes even more effectively moving forward. If Wade isn't his explosive self, then he simply isn't doing Miami any good.
Wade is the X-factor in this series since he is the one guy Miami has who can perform at a superstar level when James is struggling. If Wade is unable to perform at the level he is accustomed to in the NBA Finals, then all of the burden will fall on LeBron in terms of leading the Heat to a "three peat."
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