Tim Duncan and the ageless San Antonio Spurs bring their flawless fundamental talents into battle against LeBron James and the dynasty-seeking Miami Heat.
San Antonio is making its fourth NBA Finals appearance in the last 11 years after ripping through the Memphis Grizzlies in four successive games. Led by Tony Parker and the ever-understated Duncan, the Spurs pulled off their second sweep of the playoffs and are now within reach of their fourth title of their Big Three era.
Miami didn't have it so easy in its conference finals matchup. To the surprise of just about everyone, the Indiana Pacers forced the Heat to endure a grueling seven-game series after having won eight of their first nine playoff contests.
This is South Beach's third consecutive Finals berth, and the reigning NBA champions hope to secure their second title since the dawn of their own Big Three.
Can James and the Heat's new-school act dispose of Duncan, the Spurs and their still dominant old-school ways, or will San Antonio's experience prevail above all?
Season Series: Heat 2-0
Playoff Seeds: Spurs No. 2; Heat No. 1
Playoff Records: Spurs 12-2; Heat 12-4
NBA Finals Schedule:
- Game 1 Thursday, June 6, 9 p.m. ET (ABC)
- Game 2 Sunday, June 9, 8 p.m. ET (ABC)
- Game 3 Tuesday, June 11, 9 p.m. ET (ABC)
- Game 4 Thursday, June 13, 9 p.m. ET (ABC)
- Game 5 Sunday, June 16, 8 p.m. ET (ABC)*
- Game 6 Tuesday, June 18, 9 p.m. ET (ABC)*
- Game 7 Thursday, June 20, 9 p.m. ET (ABC)*
What Everybody's Talking About: Dynasties
The Spurs have already established themselves as a dynasty-caliber outfit, while the Heat are considered a dynasty-in-the-waiting.
This will be the Heat's third Finals appearance in three years; they've reached it every season since their Big Three formed prior to the 2010-11 campaign.
After falling to the Dallas Mavericks in six games in 2011, Miami redeemed itself in 2012. Erik Spoelstra's squad sent the Oklahoma City Thunder home empty-handed, winning four consecutive contests after a Game 1 loss to take home the first championship of its Big Three era.
Now, the Big Three and the Heat seek a second title, a championship they need if they wish to continue their quest toward absolute dominance.
Generally, you need three titles to be considered a dynasty. As a result of who the Heat house and how much they've accomplished in the early goings of their triumvirate's existence, two will be enough to advance the conversation.
That discussion and the potential to embark on a three-peat don't come without procuring this second championship. To obtain that next ring, the Heat will have to go through an established dynasty in the Spurs.
San Antonio has won three (2003, 2005 and 2007) titles—four if you count the title Duncan and Gregg Popovich snagged together (1999) before the arrivals of Parker and Manu Ginobili.
Stemming back to 1999, Coach Pop's crew is a perfect 4-0 in the Finals. They've been here before. More than James. More than these Heat. They know what it takes to build a dynasty. They also know what it takes to extend one, as Miami will soon find out.
These Spurs are the NBA's only existing dynasty and aren't about to pass the torch to the Heat willingly.
This should be fun.
What Nobody's Talking About: How Long It Has Been
San Antonio's Big Three has not squared off against Miami's Big Three since March of 2011.
This past season, Gregg Popovich sent his Big Three home at the last minute before their first matchup against the Heat, and it cost him in a literal sense. When the second meeting of the season rolled around, neither James, Wade nor Ginobili played.
Journey back to their only meeting of the condensed 2011-12 campaign, and you find that both Ginobili and Wade sat out that game as well.
Miami and San Antonio's Big Threes have been at full strength just twice when facing each other, both times coming during the 2010-11 season.
Though the Heat are 4-1 against the Spurs since Bosh, James and Wade joined forces, the two teams are 1-1 when fielding their complete trios against one another.
Key Matchup: LeBron James vs. Kawhi Leonard
Defending James is never easy. Some would even consider it impossible. Ask Jimmy Butler or Paul George. They'll tell you.
Soon enough, San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard will tell you as well.
James is currently averaging a career-playoff low in minutes per game. The catch? He's still logging 41.2 minutes a night. What has he done during those 41-plus minutes of burn? Posted 26.2 points, 7.3 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 1.6 steals per game on 51.4 percent shooting.
Only one other player in NBA history has put up at least 26 points, seven rebounds and six assists while shooting 50 percent or better from the floor through a minimum of 10 playoff games. His name? Michael Jordan.
So yeah, Leonard is going to have his work cut out for him, but he's not necessarily fodder for James to chew up either.
In just his second season, Leonard has already been heralded as one of the best perimeter defenders in the game. He's quick enough to stifle off-the-dribble attacks, physical enough to body up on the block and doesn't shy away from getting his hands dirty by contesting shots, crashing the boards and chasing down loose balls.
During the regular season, Leonard held opposing small and power forwards to a combined 14.3 PER. James posted a 31.6 PER and is at 28.7 for the playoffs. Expecting Leonard to hold him to a below-average output borders on absurd, but the potential is there for him to be a hindrance.
Thus far, the two have played just one game against each other, back in January of 2012. James went for 33 points, five rebounds and 10 assists, while the then-rookie Leonard posted 12 points and six rebounds.
Can Leonard limit James in ways that neither Butler nor George could? And can he match, or come close to approaching, the King's offensive accolades? Or is James destined to rip through the opposition, just as he's always done?
Miami's title hopes rest on James' shoulders, which means much of San Antonio's rest upon Leonard's.
Don't Forget: The Heat Still Have Some Issues
Not that the Spurs are perfect or anything; Miami has just incurred more struggles than most anticipated.
None of their shortcomings have been as surprising as Dwyane Wade's subpar postseason performance. Actually, it's not entirely surprising. He's had issues in the past. He's always just rebounded rather quickly.
This year, he hasn't.
Though Wade went for 21 points and nine rebounds in Miami's Game 7 victory over the Pacers, he averaged just 15.4 points and 5.1 rebounds on 44.1 percent shooting for the series. After averaging 21.2 points, five rebounds and 5.1 assists on a career-best 52.1 percent shooting during the regular season, we expected more.
More was also expected of Chris Bosh. He averaged a mere 11 points and 4.3 rebounds on 37.7 percent shooting during the Eastern Conference Finals, ghastly figures for someone still considered a superstar.
Miami isn't a lock to take down the Spurs if James doesn't receive consistent help from Bosh and Wade. Improving upon their 35.6 percent three-point clip is a must for the Heat as well.
They were second in the league during the regular reason, hitting on 39.6 percent of their treys. The deep ball hasn't fallen as frequently as they would like during the playoffs.
Does that mean the Heat are doomed? Absolutely not.
Even when you factor in their collective struggles and all that could potentially go wrong, you still have the most feared team in the league. Why? LeBron James.
As long as James continues to dominate in his own way, as long as he continues to assume any role the Heat need him to play, Miami can't be counted out.
No matter how much rest the Spurs received, how well Leonard defends James and how well Parker, Duncan and Ginobili play, there's always going to be James. That's a problem the Spurs just won't be able to solve.
Prediction: Heat in six