Sunday, June 1-
By Chinmay Vaidya, KCOU Sports
After a gut-wrenching defeat in last year’s finals, the San Antonio Spurs will have another shot to dethrone the defending champions. The Spurs will meet the Miami Heat in the 2014 NBA Finals, which begins on Thursday, June 5. With one trio looking to cement its legacy and another looking to build one, here is a look at each team’s journey to the Finals.
Miami Heat (54-28, 2nd in East)
How they got here: The Miami Heat entered the postseason with a lot of question marks with Dwyane Wade’s health being the primary one. All Miami did was march through the Eastern Conference with little trouble. After sweeping Charlotte in the opening round, the Heat took down Brooklyn in five games. Despite being swept in the regular season by the Nets, Miami used its speed and swarming defense to make the Nets look their age. The Heat defeated the No. 1 seed Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals 4-2 to advance to a fourth consecutive NBA Finals, becoming the only team since the 1984-87 Celtics to do so.
Biggest Storyline: A three-peat. A chance to build a legacy. LeBron James, Wade and Chris Bosh formed a formidable trio during the 2010 offseason and can capture a third consecutive title with a victory in this year’s Finals. All three players have the opportunity to test free agency after this year, but is highly unlikely that all will do so. James has finally found the right situation for him and his family. Wade is nearing the end of his career and will probably end up retiring with Miami. Bosh can continue to put up numbers going under the radar. A three-peat would give Miami the chance to build a legacy and continue to dominate the NBA.
Wild-Card: Norris Cole. While he doesn’t fill up the box score or drop 20 points per game, Cole excels defensively. He will likely get extended minutes to match up on Tony Parker. If Cole can contain the San Antonio point guard, the Heat have an excellent chance of winning. Cole can also hit the three-pointer and has the speed to consistenly attack the basket. A string of good games from Miami’s backup point guard will go a long way in the quest for a three-peat.
San Antonio Spurs (62-20, 1st in West)
How they got here: Despite an aging core and a bitter taste in their mouth after last season, the San Antonio Spurs achieved the best record in the league. With Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili continuing to lead the team in scoring, San Antonio battled through the Western Conference to reach the Finals for the sixth time in franchise history. After a grueling 4-3 series victory of Dallas in the opening round, the Spurs defeated Portland in five games. In the Western Conference finals, the Spurs took down the Oklahoma City Thunder in six games. Head coach Gregg Popovich and Duncan have taken part in each of the franchise’s Finals appearances.
Biggest Storyline: Revenge. Cementing a legacy. Duncan, Parker and Ginobili came together during the 2002-03. Parker was in his second year and Ginobili came over from overseas. The Spurs trio has captured titles in 2003, 2005 and 2007. Despite falling short last year, San Antonio has another chance to cement its legacy. The Spurs haven’t missed postseason since Duncan came into the league and have gotten the top seed in the Western Conference seven times. Another championship will cap off a decade of dominance by San Antonio’s “Big Three” and put Popovich in the coaching elite.
Wild-Card: Kawhi Leonard. In his second NBA season, Leonard emerged as one of the best two-way players in the game. The small forward has increased his output during the postseason and in an integral part of the San Antonio defense. He will be tasked with guarding the NBA’s best player in James. If Leonard can contain James, the Spurs can focus more on Wade and Bosh. Leonard can also attack James offensively to make him work more and potentially get him into foul trouble.
Prediction: Led by arguably the greatest power forward in the history of the game and the best coach in the league right now, the San Antonio Spurs will exact revenge on the Miami Heat in seven games to capture the franchise’s fifth NBA title. Duncan will capture his fourth NBA Finals MVP, while Parker and Ginobili be remembered for excellent performances. Despite the best efforts of James, Wade and Bosh, San Antonio will add to its decade of dominance this June.