Monday, June 2, 2014

nba finals rematch set - heat vs. spurs, part ii.

The 2014 National Basketball Association has its Finals matchup: The two-time defending champions Miami Heat will play the San Antonio Spurs. It's a rematch of the Finals from last year, which were billed as the ultimate test of the fans' attention span. The league's most compelling star – LeBron James - against the team most often billed as boring – the Spurs. However, there were numerous subplots then and there are many more this time around.

First of all, let's revisit the narrative from last go-round. The Spurs have seen James in the Finals before last year; they swept his Cleveland Cavaliers in 2007. James, however, is no longer the boy he was then. He's a two-time champion. Maligned for his self-promotion on ESPN, perhaps, but The Decision is far behind us at this point. The way he got to Miami might still rankle a few people, but James has ultimately been proved correct. The Heat are on the way to their fourth consecutive Finals since The Decision, a feat unmatched by any other teams aside from perennial winners the Lakers and the Celtics. Not even Michael Jordan's Bulls went to four straight Finals. The Decision might have been a misstep, but the decision itself certainly was not.

Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have settled into their roles and even Mario Chalmers has had sparks of greatness, not only this season, but increasingly as the team has figured out the way to play. However, many pundits claim that this Heat team is not as good as last year's team – the loss of Mike Miller being the most oft-cited component. Ray Allen is still key and coach Erik Spoelstra is only getting better at his job, both of which have to be good signs for Heat fans.

On the other side of the match-up, the always-overlooked Spurs have made it back to the Finals after the heartbreak of last season's Game 6 collapse. 28 seconds away from yet another odd-year championship, the Spurs seemed to lose Game 7 purely on the emotional letdown after Allen's game winner in the previous game. However, after being dismissed year after year after year as too old, the Spurs have now entered into their first back-to-back Finals in franchise history. Their focus in the regular season led them to the best overall record, giving them home court advantage in this year's contest.

The Spurs' big three have much room to improve, especially Manu Ginobili; his oftentimes out of control performance in last year's Finals was unlike the improvisational genius basketball fans had grown accustomed to seeing. Tim Duncan, who won his first title in 1999, setting him up for the longest gap between championships in NBA history, should the Spurs prevail, missed a chippy in Game 6 last year that he's made at least 100 times since then. And last but not least, the point guard, to whom much of the offense has been turned over to, Tony Parker. The biggest question mark of the series on the Spurs side, since he was held out of Game 6 against the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals. One of the keys to the Spurs offense missed the second-half of a close-out game because of an injury that almost no one knew about. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has always kept his cards close to the vest, but this seemed unprecedented.

Game 1 starts on Thursday in San Antonio, where Game 2 will be played on Sunday. This year's Finals will be the series that returns to the previous 2-2-1-1-1 format, thankfully. When all's said and done, the Spurs, miscast as the boring team, who in reality play the team ball that every coach any player's ever heard speak constantly praises, should bring their laser focus to its most logical conclusion. Tim Duncan claimed that the Spurs still had the bad taste of last year's loss in their collective mouths. It's time for the veterans to prove it. Nothing else matters.

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