by Brandon James Anderson
The NBA Finals begin Thursday night with the San Antonio Spurs taking on the Miami Heat in a rematch from a year ago. Last year the teams played seven entertaining games with Miami pulling off an impressive comeback to claim their second straight title.
To help casual fans, or even the disinterested, here’s what you need to know about the 2014 NBA Finals so you can sound like you know about the 2014 NBA Finals:
*LeBron James is still the best basketball player in the world. Yes, Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant won the MVP award this year – and rightfully so, having had the best season of anyone – but LeBron is still LeBron. Plus, none of the Spurs have their own flavor of Sprite.
*The Spurs have now reached The Finals for the sixth time. Additionally, this is the first time the franchise has reached The Finals in consecutive years. Coach Gregg Popovich and future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan are the only two men to be a part of each of those Finals trips.
*The Finals, technically, is stylized as The Finals with a capital T and capital F. The NBA wants us to refer to their championship round as a pronoun. It’s kind of annoying, but it’s better than the NFL’s annual crackdown on people even mouthing the words Super Bowl.
*The Heat are looking for a three-peat. The last team to do so was the Los Angeles Lakers from 2000-2002. The Chicago Bulls did so twice in the 1990’s. In all three of those instances, Phil Jackson was the head coach. Miami’s Erik Spoelstra is a good coach, but few people think of him as a legendary coach by any stretch of the imagination. Should the Heat seal the deal and make it three straight titles, it will definitely be weird to consider Spoelstra in the same breath as Phil Jackson or legendary Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach.
*Should the Spurs win, this will be Tim Duncan’s fifth ring, putting him on par with Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant. You can expect some “Who’s greater, Duncan or Bryant?” chatter over the next two weeks and definitely if San Antonio comes out on top. In a lot of ways, it’s apples and oranges. Both had tremendous careers spent with a single franchise, but they play different positions and have vastly different styles.
*Besides going for the aforementioned “three-peat,” Miami is also making its fourth consecutive appearance in The Finals. The last team to pull that off was the Celtics from 1984-1988. Sports talk radio has already started in with the “Larry Bird or LeBron James” narrative. Larry Legend was great, but when all is said and done, LBJ will be seen as the better player.
*Tony Parker has a sprained ankle but is expected to start Game 1. This shouldn’t be much of an issue despite much ado being made about the injury by the media. Manu Ginobili is relatively healthy compared to years’ past which will be a big help to San Antonio. His performance in the Western Conference Finals helped the Spurs overcome the Thunder when Russell Westbrook was playing at the top of his game.
*Speaking of health, Dwyane Wade is no longer playing at the Finals MVP level he was at back in 2006. But he’s in a lot better shape now than he was a year ago when he was getting his knee drained during the playoffs. The Heat coaching staff has done a great job of limiting his minutes. Besides, when LeBron James is on your team, not playing in 28 regular seasons games is a luxury you can afford.
*San Anotiono’s “Big Three” of Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker is still the foundation of the team, but Kawhi Leonard has proven to be an invaluable part of the team’s core. Having already exceeded what many thought would be his ceiling as a player in just a few years in the league, Leonard’s maturation along with a strong outing from Danny Green could be what gives the Spurs the edge.
*Not to be left out, Miami has their own series of X-factors. They do miss Mike Miller who came up big two years ago when the Heat bested the Thunder in five games. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that Miami has the best three point shooter of all time serving as a role player on their team. Likely, the X-factor for the Heat will be Rashard Lewis who had been a complete afterthought this season (and the last five years) until he made some surprising and needed contributions during the Eastern Conference finals.
*Barring any major injuries, this series is likely to go seven games again. From a fan standpoint, it’s a fun match-up with a lot of interesting story lines. From a talent standpoint, these are two great teams. Most of America is likely rooting for San Antonio, but Miami will probably pull out the win.