Finally, the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs wil play at full strength when they battle in the NBA Finals, which begin Thursday in Miami.
When the Chicago Bulls ended Miami’s 27-game winning streak on March 27, they deprived the NBA of what would have arguably been one of the most significant and titanic regular season games in the league’s history.
Had Miami defeated Chicago, they would have most likely gone into San Antonio on March 31 with only the Spurs standing between Miami and NBA immortality. Miami would have been playing to win their 30th straight game, and with games scheduled against New York, Charlotte, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee, Miami–had they defeated the Spurs–would have most likely broken the storied 33-game winning streak held by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers.
Miami never got that chance, and San Antonio that night did not even see LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, as Miami rested their superstars, just like Spurs coach Gregg Popovich did with his stars when he sent Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili home last December at the end of a long road trip instead of having them play at Miami. The NBA later fined San Antonio 250,000 for resting their players.
The series will feature an ascendant LeBron James, playing against a team that swept his Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals in 2007 when James led Cleveland to their first NBA Finals appearance in franchise history. He will battle an aging Tim Duncan, who may retire if his Spurs win it all. Duncan will try to go out a champion; James will try to continue his march toward perhaps being considered as the best to have ever played the game. For James to be in that discussion, though, he will need rings. Not one. Not two. Not three. But also not 11. Six will probably get him seriously considered as the game’s greatest, but James will have a ways to go even if Miami beats San Antonio. He has, though, shown no signs of slowing down anytime soon, as he has continually improved his game and shored up his weaknesses with each passing year.
After Duncan’s Spurs swept James’s Cavaliers in 2007, James realized how tough it was to win a title, and that experience ultimately may have compelled him to join forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in 2010 to win championships, but Wade’s body has been breaking down this year and Bosh has had trouble with Indiana’s big men in the series. And James has ironically implied that he has felt like he did six years ago when he was carrying the Cavaliers in Miami’s grueling series against Indiana.
Miami struggled with Indiana’s big men in the Eastern Conference Finals, and things will not get easier against San Antonio. Miami will go up against Duncan and Tiago Splitter, who had a solid defensive series against the Grizzlies, helping stymie Memphis’s formidable front line and enabling the Spurs to sweep Memphis and get the 10 days off to rest their aching bodies. Tony Parker, if he stays healthy, will give the Heat fits, as Miami has struggled with quick point guards and James may have to guard him if Parker reverts to the jitterbug that lit up James’s Cavaliers in 2007. Ginobili will again be the X-factor.
But James will be the best player on the floor, more dominant than he was in 2007 and even more cerebral than the basketball prodigy already was.
The series is compelling on paper, and could be one for the ages on the court. If the NBA could magically have its way, the league would certainly want this series to be decided in Game 7.
Game 1 is Thursday in Miami. The game will be televised on ABC at 9 p.m EDT.