NBA Finals: Miami Heat vs. San Antonio Spurs series preview

The Miami Heat aim for their third straight NBA championship, while the San Antonio Spurs seek redemption in a rematch of last year's Finals. Walter Villa breaks down the highly anticipated matchup.

Unlike last year, the Miami Heat enter the NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs with a healthy Dwyane Wade.

Steve Mitchell / USA TODAY Sports

With the 2014 NBA Finals set to open on Thursday, basketball fans should be hoping that the rematch between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs is as dramatic as last year.

Heat fans, on the other hand, just want a third straight victory parade, which would make Miami the first franchise to three-peat as NBA champions since the 2000-2002 Los Angeles Lakers.

The Spurs and Heat this season split two regular-season matchups, with each team winning on its home court.

Miami's home win was somewhat tainted because the Spurs were without three key players due to injury -- Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter and Danny Green.

The Heat was also different in that game, bringing a hobbled Dwyane Wade off the bench for the first time since 2008.

All those players are healthy now.

Miami had issues in the second game. LeBron James said the sleeveless "El Heat" jerseys that Miami wore during that game restricted his shooting. James also played part of the first quarter with a mask to protect his then-broken nose.

James discarded the mask with four minutes to go in the first period, and that -- along with those jerseys -- are things of the past.

Expect an entirely different set of circumstances for the best-of-seven NBA Finals.


Jan. 26 at Miami: Heat 113, Spurs 101 -- Heat forward Chris Bosh scored 24 points on 9-of-10 shooting from the floor and added five rebounds and three assists in just 26 minutes. Miami's James wasn't needed to be Superman -- he had just 18 points. The Heat outscored the Spurs 33-21 in third quarter and took a 20-point lead into the final period. Tim Duncan led the Spurs with 23 points in a Sunday afternoon game that lacked true intensity.

March 6 at San Antonio: Spurs 111, Heat 87 -- The Spurs led by 15 points after the first quarter and never trailed in what was a rather easy win. San Antonio also outscored the Heat 29-13 in the fourth quarter, when Miami had 10 turnovers. Duncan led San Antonio with 23 points and 11 rebounds. The intensity in this game was much higher than in the one in Miami, especially because the Spurs felt they needed to prove they could beat a top team such as the Heat.


Leonard, who was named to the NBA's All-Defense second team on Monday, will likely guard LeBron James often. Leonard missed the first game the teams played this past regular season. But in the second game, he held James to 19 points on 6-of-18 shooting, including 0-for-3 on three-pointers.

"He's a pest," Duncan said of Leonard's defense.

Of course, Leonard scored just 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting in that game, which reminds us that James also made All-Defense second team. Rest assured: James will make life difficult for Leonard as well.

Also starting up front for the Spurs are Duncan and Splitter.

Duncan is a 14-time All-Star, a four-time NBA champion and the best rebounder and post scorer in this series. He averaged 21.4 points in the regular season, including 23.0 vs. the Heat, so you can expect more of the same.

Joining James up front for Miami will be Bosh and a starter that has not yet been announced. Rashard Lewis has been that starter of late, but Erik Spoelstra did not commit to him, at least not publicly. The coach has plenty of other options, including Udonis Haslem and Shane Battier.

Here's the good news for Miami: Bosh, who has been wildly inconsistent this season, was really good in both games against the Spurs.

He scored 24 points in each game and combined to make 19 of 26 from the floor.

Bosh can't be expected to repeat those numbers, but anything close will mean that the Heat can spread the floor and make one of the Spurs' bigs have to defend in space.

For that reason, the third starting forward for Miami will likely be someone who can shoot from distance -- Lewis or Battier.


Initially, at least, Mario Chalmers will defend Spurs point guard Tony Parker. That matchup would seem to favor the Spurs, except that Parker played just 19 minutes in San Antonio's previous game, Saturday at Oklahoma City, due to injury.

Plus, the Heat will send multiple defenders to try to slow down Parker. Backup point guard Norris Cole will be in that mix, and LeBron James is also an option, especially late in games.

The Heat should have an edge at shooting guard with Wade over Green. Wade missed 29 regular-season starts due to injury, but he is 15-for-15 in the playoffs. His minutes are up, too, from 32.9 to 34.7, and he has been productive in the playoffs, averaging 18.7 points and making 51.9 percent of his shots.

Green is a steady player, averaging roughly nine points in the regular season and playoffs. But his postseason shot-making is on the rise, converting on a stellar .481 percent of his three-point tries. The Heat can't afford to lose track of him behind the arc.

The biggest key at guard, though, will be Parker's health. He has said he is ready to play, but will he be 100 percent?

During the regular season, he led the Spurs in scoring (16.7) and assists (5.7) while making .499 percent of his shots. It's unlikely the Spurs can beat the Heat four times with a hobbled Parker.


Assuming the Heat starts Lewis at forward, they have several options for productive minutes off the bench. In the backcourt, expect Cole to provide speed and defense while Ray Allen is a dangerous three-point shooter, especially late in games.

In the frontcourt, Chris "Birdman" Andersen will be factor close to the basket -- as long as he is healthy and no longer bothered by a leg bruise. Udonis Haslem and Shane Battier, both gritty defenders, should get some run.

Spurs guard Manu Ginobili is always a key off the bench. He is the Spurs' third-leading scorer (14.3) in the playoffs. Guard Marco Belinelli can also be dangerous --he is making .414 percent from 3-point range in the playoffs.

Boris Diaw, a 6-8, 235-pound forward, could be a factor in this series. He started just 24 games in the regular season, but two of them were against the Heat, and he averaged 15.5 points on 11-of-15 shooting in those two games. For the season, his scoring average was only 9.1 points, so he seems to play better vs. Miami.

San Antonio's backup point guards -- Patty Mills and Cory Joseph -- will take on added significance in this series if Parker is not at full strength.

The Spurs better hope that is not the case.


.497 -- The Heat's shooting percentage in the playoffs, which is the best in the NBA. They also led in this category during the regular season (.501).

.482 -- The Spurs' shooting percentage in the playoffs, which is the second best in the NBA. They also ranked second in the league in this category during the regular season (.486).

.395 -- The Heat's three-point percentage in the playoffs, which is the best in the NBA. During the regular season, they finished 12th in this category (.364).

.392 --The Spurs' three-point percentage in the playoffs, which is the second best in the NBA. During the regular season, they led the NBA in this category (.397).


Parker's health, Leonard's defense on James, Duncan's ability to punish the Heat inside and Bosh's ability to score from the perimeter --these will be among the factors that should decide this series.

To win a championship, the Heat will need to win at least once in San Antonio, which has the home-court advantage.

Miami would prefer to steal a road win and then end this at home in Game 6.

But the Spurs are out for revenge and wouldn't mind playing on their home court in Game 7 with a chance to end Miami's run.



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