After a grueling regular season and a tiring conference playoffs, the 2014 NBA Finals are set to get underway with Game 1 of the best-of-seven series tipping off Thursday night between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs.
The Heat are making their fourth straight NBA Finals appearance and looking to win their third consecutive title. The Spurs are looking for revenge, after being defeated in seven games by the Heat in the 2013 Finals. Spurs bigman Tim Duncan has four rings in his career, and he has vowed to win a fifth.
“We have four more [games] to win,” Duncan told TNT’s David Aldridge. “We’ll do it this time.”
There isn’t much love lost between the two teams. The Spurs had a chance to close out last year’s series in Game 6, but a last-second three-point shot by Ray Allen sent the contest into overtime, where Miami eventually won. The Heat players have taken exception to the idea that they were lucky, and are looking to silence their critics, and the Spurs, once again.
"They don't like us; they don't. I can sense it from Timmy's comments over the last couple of days," LeBron James told reporters on Monday. "They wanted this, they wanted us and we'll be ready for the challenge."
Both teams' rosters are similar to last year's. Of the 10 starters from Game 7 of the 2013 Finals, Mike Miller is the only one who won’t participate in the upcoming series.
Head coach Erik Spolestra made a slight adjustment to the Miami lineup, following a Game 1 loss to the Pacers. He took Shane Battier out of the starting lineup, giving both Udonis Haslem and Richard Lewis two games at power forward. There’s a good chance Lewis will start in the Finals opener, after scoring 31 total points in the last two contests against Indiana. He had been held scoreless in the first four games of the Eastern Conference finals.
San Antonio made a similar adjustment to their lineup in the Western Conference finals. After two straight losses to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Gregg Popovich replaced Tiago Splitter with Matt Bonner as a starter. He totaled only six points in the next two games, but the Spurs were victorious in both.
Tony Parker has started every playoff game in 2014, and that will continue on Thursday night, despite an ankle injury. The ailment forced the point guard to miss the second half of the Spurs’ clincher against the Thunder. While Parker will be in the lineup, he recently admitted that his ankle has been a concern.
"A little bit because you never know how it's going to feel," Parker said. "But I'm trying to be very positive, trying to do everything I can, eat healthy, get my rest, do all the treatment. I just trust my body."
Unlike in 2013, the Spurs have home-court advantage this time. San Antonio has been dominant at home, where they are a 4.5-point favorite in Game 1. The over/under has been set at 198.5.
Game 1 is scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. ET.