NBA Finals Preview, Storylines, and It’s Time to Enjoy LeBron James
The NBA Finals begin tonight, and it's a rematch of last year's finals when the Miami Heat beat the San Antonio Spurs in seven games.
However, a rematch isn't the biggest implication looming on the horizon as time ticks closer to tipping off in San Antonio tonight. Here's my biggest storylines heading into the NBA Finals:
1. Not one, not two, but three? Miami can three-peat with another title.
Miami is starting to form an NBA dynasty, and by winning a third straight title, the Heat can join elusive company. Most notably as of late, Michael Jordan in 1990's, and Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal in the early 2000's when both won a trifecta of titles in three straight years.
2. Gregg Popovich, and Tim Duncan can win a fifth title together.
I was six years old when Duncan entered the league, and he's still playing at a high level. His first title was with Popovich in 1999, and won other titles in 2003, 2005, and 2007. He never won back-to-back championships, but Duncan's Spurs are the ultimate dynasty. Duncan's nickname, the 'Big Fundamental,' fits him and the Spurs regime perfectly. Aside from Jordan's Bulls, and ahead of Kobe's Lakers, and James' Heat, it's remarkable to stay relevant and win for over 15 years.
3. The original 'Big Three' vs. today's 'Big Three'
Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker have won three titles together (2003, 2005, 2007). Can James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh match the trio?
4. Is James a 'good guy,' finally?
James has been labeled a villain in his career after leaving Cleveland for a better job. Leaving isn't a big deal, but it's the way he left Cleveland that bothered basketball fans. He went on national television and made 'the Decision. James, Wade, and Bosh had a big party in South Beach saying they would win not one, two, three, four, five, six, but seven titles together.
Here's my reasoning why basketball fans are so hard on James. He's challenging Jordan as the best player ever, and all of Jordan's fans don't like it. I'll admit it, I am one of those guys. Part of the reason I haven't always like James is because how he left Cleveland, and I'm a Jordan and 1990's Chicago Bulls fan. But, who wasn't a Jordan fan?
However, I have come to realize that every night James is on television's across the country, greatness is being displayed. Think about in these terms: isn't it cool to say you watched Jordan, Bryant and James in your lifetime? You bet. It's time to put James' past decisions (no pun intended) behind him. He's the best basketball player on the planet. He's maybe the best athlete to play in the NBA ever. He can play almost any position, and can score, dish, rebound and play defense.
Last year's finals was thrilling. In Game 1, Parker hit a ridiculous game-winning shot to lift the Spurs over the Heat. In Game 2, the Heat won 103-84 to even the series. The Spurs returned the favor in Game 3 as Danny Green hit seven of San Antonio's 16 three-pointers (NBA Finals-record), and won 113-77. Miami's 'Big Three' combined for 85 points, and won 109-93 in Game 4. The Spurs took Game 5, and were closing in on a title. However, Ray Allen changed that when he hit a three-pointer late in Game 6 to send the game to overtime, and the Heat won 103-100. South Dakota native Mike Miller also hit a memorable three-pointer without a shoe on in the Heat's Game 6 win, too. Then, in Game 7, the Heat won their second title, 95-88 behind James' 37 points.
I think it's Dwyane Wade. The three-time NBA champion played in 54 of the Heat's 82 regular season games in 2013-2014. He hasn't missed a postseason game, though, and is averaging 17.5 points a game in the playoffs.
Other than Wade, I think both of the benches on the Spurs and Heat will be important. Starting with Miami, Chris Andersen, Shane Battier, Norris Cole, and Ray Allen average about double-digit minutes. Don't count out Udonis Haslem, who has plenty of NBA Finals experience and can play a role inside for the Heat. The biggest difference for the Heat may be finding a rotating presence for their outside shooters. Miller was huge the last two years, but Miami amnestied his contract. A possibility to shine in Miller's absence: James Jones.
For the Spurs, Popovich knows how to find balance between his starting lineup and bench. It starts with Ginobili, who can take command at the point. Other than Manu, Boris Diaw, Tiago Splitter, and Patty Mills are the Spurs main contributors off the bench. Diaw has been especially key, after coming big in Game 6 against Oklahoma City and scoring 26 points off the bench.
Duncan and Popovich had their fifth title won a year ago until Allen hit that shot with five seconds left in Game 6 to send it to overtime. Then, the Spurs fell apart. I have a feeling San Antonio will be ready and won't be dwelling on the past come game time tonight. Miami, though, are back-to-back champions. I'm sure they will be hungry for their third straight title.
The Finals start on ABC and ESPN 99.1 at 8 p.m. Pre-game is set for 7 p.m.
*For comments and story ideas, email Sam at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @samtastad.