The stage has been set for an NBA Finals featuring the game’s biggest superstar and the most spotlight-feigning champions in the league’s history.
Miami Heat forward and league MVP LeBron James leads his club against Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and the San Antonio Spurs Thursday night at American Airlines Arena in Game One.
It is a rematch of sorts, with James hell-bent on crushing the team that denied him in his first championship attempt in 2007 when his then-Cleveland Cavaliers were swept in four games by San Antonio and an in-his-prime Duncan.
It was the fourth and last title for Duncan and the Spurs, as the big man averaged 18.3 points and 11.5 rebounds while James struggled to get his teammates involved. However, it was Parker who made the biggest different in that series, picking up the lone Finals MVP of his 12-year career.
Six years later and James has not only found a better supporting cast, but already possesses a world championship, and has no intention of losing ground once again to the Spurs.
Duncan and James could cancel their production out, placing more pressure on Parker and the other two-thirds of Miami's Big Three in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh
Parker is now the considered the best Spur on the floor, taking the reins from Duncan as he’s led the club in points and assists in the regular season and playoffs. Guarding the France native may be the key to the series for Miami, as Parker punished the Lakers, Warriors, and Grizzlies in the first three rounds for 23 points and 7.2 assists a game.
Wade and Bosh have had a far less successful playoffs, and slipped down a peg after largely failing to find their offense against Indiana in the conference finals round. To their credit, Wade has dealt with knee injuries all season, and Bosh tweaked in ankle against the Pacers.
Bosh averaged a career low in rebounds during the regular season, and matching up against Duncan could continue those woes in the series. As proved by the double-double he averaged in all four of Miami’s victories over the Oklahoma City Thunder in last year’s Finals, the Heat will need solid production down low from Bosh in order to repeat as champions.
Both teams will also try to control the three-point line, with San Antonio ranked second behind the arc at 36 percent, and Miami third at 35 percent during the playoffs.
The game tips-off at 9 p.m. Eastern and will be broadcast ABC, or watch a live online stream on ESPN 3 here.
Point Spread: Miami is favored by 5 points
Over/Under: 189 points
Prediction: The Pacers strategy in the conference finals was to let James go off, but keep his teammates in check. The Spurs could employ the same game plan, meaning Wade and Bosh will have to knock down shots early to keep all double-teams away from James. Both benches will also play a huge role, including Miami’s Shane Battier and Chris Andersen, along with San Antonio’s Tiago Splitter and Gary Neal. The Spurs will strike the first blow, but the game will be tight throughout.
Predicted Score: San Antonio 92, Miami 88