The Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs are back at it, one year after they engaged in an epic seven-game NBA Finals during which the Spurs seemingly won their fifth title in Game 6 before Ray Allen forced overtime and a Game 7 the Heat ultimately won with an unforgettable desperation three-point shot.
Here are five questions regarding the rematch, now that the Spurs have the home-court advantage this time and the NBA has gone back to a 2-2-1-1-1 format:
1. Can the sequel surpass the original?
It’ll certainly be different a year after the Spurs came so close to winning their fifth NBA title in Game 6, only to lose it all in a seventh and final game.
Both teams’ stars are the same, but the supporting casts have changed: Sharp-shooter Mike Miller is gone from Miami, his role reprised by veteran Rashard Lewis, and Gary Neal is gone from the Spurs. Heat veteran Shane Battier is mostly an afterthought this time around.
This time, Spurs point guard Tony Parker is fighting a twisted ankle he originally injured in the first round against Dallas and aggravated in Saturday’s series-ending victory over Oklahoma City. This time, Heat star Dwyane Wade is healthier after he played the 2013 Finals despite having a hurting knee.
This time, the Spurs get another chance one year after Allen’s three-pointer forced a deciding game in which Spurs star Tim Duncan missed a short hook shot and a tip-in late in the game.
“It lasts,” Duncan said Wednesday about last season’s bitter loss. “I have a very good memory, especially for my misses and my losses. … That stuck with me. Obviously, it’s always in the back of my mind. Anytime I see anything to do with that, it pops right back in.
“We understand what happened last year. We understand how close we got. We’re disappointed in that respect, but we’re ecstatic we have another opportunity to try to change that.”
2. How much will Parker’s injured ankle affect the series?
Wade underwent treatments nearly around the clock and persevered just enough through his knee injury. Parker on Wednesday declared himself able to play, thanks in part to four days off after the Spurs’ Western Conference final victory over the Thunder.
“You never know how it’s going to feel, but I’m trying to very positive,” Parker said at Wednesday’s Finals media day. “I’m very proud of my body. Yes, I have some little stuff, wear and tear. I’m still here, and I trust my body to hold up for the whole series.”
3. What’s the big deal?
After the Spurs finished off Oklahoma City on Saturday, Duncan said his team would beat the Heat this time and added, “We’re happy to have another opportunity at it. We’re happy it’s the Heat again.”
Miami superstar LeBron James and teammate Chris Bosh bristled at Duncan’s comments and suggested they could become bulletin-board motivational material when the Finals tighten.
“I don’t know what I said that was so bad,” Duncan said Wednesday. “I said I wanted to win the Finals, we’re back here now and I wanted to win. If they need to find fuel in that, then so be it.”
Wade said he thinks he knows the correct answer.
“When you’re in the Finals, you’re supposed to think you’re going to win,” Wade said. “Tim Duncan believes that they’re going to win. The Miami Heat believes that they’re going to win, we wouldn’t be here [otherwise]. So I don’t know, I just think we have microphones in our face too much.”
4. Why should Timberwolves fans care?
What do Wolves fans know about the NBA Finals, or even the playoffs for that matter? Nothing recently for sure, but they should have a rooting interest in this respect: It could, conceivably, impact where Kevin Love plays next season and what their team gets for him.
Hear this out: Cleveland pursued Love before last year’s draft, offering the top pick in a package, and might do so again by dangling the No. 1 pick in supposedly a loaded draft. But why would Love ever agree to sign long-term to play in Cleveland?
One word (or name): LeBron.
If the Cavaliers hope to bring James back home to Cleveland to win a title for his native Ohio someday, they’ll need to give him real reason beyond money and destiny. A chance to play with Kyrie Irving and an Olympic teammate named Love just might convince him to leave South Beach and an aging Heat team.
That could come as soon as this summer if James chooses to opt out of his contract. But that would happen only if the Spurs end the Heat’s title winning streak at two.
If the Heat wins its third, James’ return home will wait at least another season because there’s no way he walks away from the chance to win four in a row, something Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal never did.
5. So … what would a third consecutive title mean for the guy they call King James?
Jordan won three consecutive titles twice and Bryant and O’Neal did it once together. None of them were able to make it four in a row.
“My legacy will speak for itself when I’m done playing basketball,” James said. “Last year is last year. This trophy this year belongs to nobody. It’s up for grabs.”