The 2014 NBA Finals begin tonight, Thursday, June 5, as the Western Conference champions, the San Antonio Spurs, look to avenge last year's heartbreaking finals loss to the Miami Heat, and prevent the two-time defending NBA champions from hoisting the coveted Larry O'Brien trophy for a third consecutive year.
On paper, these are the two best teams in the league, even though the Spurs had a few potholes on their road to the NBA Finals. And while this championship has all the makings of seven-game series, who will stand on top of the podium at the end of the day is still anyone's guess.
But if you're looking for some insider information to make a bet with some "friends", or just searching for a reason to find some interest in this year's finals, then look no further. Below, is your essential guide on what to expect in the 2014 NBA Finals:
For the Spurs to win:
For the San Antonio Spurs to win this year's NBA Championship they're going to have to be the same San Antonio Spurs we have come to expect. Which, at their age, is not as easily done as said. That means, taking advantage of their size differential in the paint, with PF Tim Duncan and C Tiago Splitter, and running the offensive as efficiently as they have in year's past.
In last year's finals, San Antonio had a better offensive rating (109.3 vs. 108.5) than the Heat, as well as having outscored the Heat on aggregate 97.7 to 97.0. But for the Spurs to escape this series, they're going to have to increase those numbers and play solid, fundamental basketball every game; as the Heat will be looking for points off of turnovers.
Why the Spurs will win:
The Heat are susceptible to inside scoring, as evidenced by Tim Duncan's 18.9 points and 12 rebounds per game in last year's finals. And with the emergence of Tiago Splitter and Kawhi Leonard as defensive studs in 2014, an older Duncan should have plenty of juice left for the offensive side of the court.
On the topic of Leonard as well, if the Spurs win this year's NBA Finals, Leonard is going to be the wild card that puts them over the top. Leonard averaged 11 points in last year's series, but has since evolved into a more dominant offensive weapon. If he can trouble James and Wade on the Spurs' offensive side of the ball, and force them to expend more energy than they want to, then the Spurs will be able to use Leonard's youth and stamina as an advantage on offense.
Why the Spurs will lose:
The finals are one year older, and so are the Spurs. Spurs' stars Tim Duncan and Tony Parker averaged just over 36 minutes-per-game last year in the finals, but both have had to cut those numbers back a little in this year's playoffs for a variety of reasons. And, with Ray Allen's nemesis, SG Manu Ginobli, seeing limited time as well, there exists a possibility that the Spurs may run out of gas when it counts, and this year may just be their final go at the trophy.
Of course, we've all been saying that for years now.
For the Heat to win:
Obviously, the Miami Heat have Lebron James, and any time he steps onto the court, there's a high probability of his team winning. But let's set aside the obvious, and assume that James and his counterpart, Dwayne Wade, put up the same numbers they did last year; which is 25.3 and 19.6 points-per-game, respectively. In assuming that, the Spurs still had, and have, the players to give the Heat all they can handle.
But the areas where the Heat can pull away this year lie in their bench and a one Mr. Christopher Bosh. Last year, Bosh was relatively non-existent in the finals, averaging just under 12 points-per-game. Primarily, this was due to Duncan imposing his will when the Spurs were on offense and allowing his team's role players to chase Bosh around the three-point line on defense.
If Miami wants another shot at the trophy, Bosh is going to have to step up his offensive efficiency, and role players Chris Anderson and Rashard Lewis, who both had monster performances against the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals, are going to have to continue playing at the level they did in this year's playoffs.
Why the Heat will win:
Centers Udonis Haslem and Chris Anderson have stepped up in a big way on defense this playoffs. If they can continue to hold their opponents in check like they have this year, that puts less pressure on Bosh on defense, and opens him up to more opportunities on offense.
Additionally, the Heat have been more focused this year on capitalizing off turnovers. If Miami can get the ball up-and-down the court quicker this finals, they have a good chance of outrunning (and outscoring) the Spurs.
Make no mistake, the Spurs love to run too, but they conserve their energy through their efficient rotations and style of defense. If the Heat can eliminate that by capitalizing off turnovers, they will severely cut down the amount of rest the Spurs can get on defense (as crazy as that sounds for a solid defensive team) and limit the number of minutes Duncan and Parker can play.
Why the Heat will lose:
Miami's bench was almost invisible in last year's playoffs, and they tended, for good reason, to rely heavily on their starters for key minutes and points. Outside of the Heat's starting five, no other player (besides Mike Miller, who is now gone) averaged more than 20 minutes-per-game in last year's finals.
Conversely, the Spurs have some very capable offensive weapons that come off the pine. Most notably, in SG Danny Green (who shot 48.1% from the three-point-line in the Western Conference Finals). If the Spurs are able to guard the Heat with their usual efficiency and allow Parker and Duncan to put up 35+ "easy" minutes a game, then they might just win this series during those few precious moments when Lebron needs a rest.
For all the talk of Leonard's emergence and Duncan's renaissance, the fact remains that Lebron is just too good.
Heat in 6.