The Miami Heat waited only one night to learn who they would face in the NBA Finals.
After eliminating Indiana in six games Friday, the Heat knew they’d face either 2013 challenger San Antonio or 2012’s contender Oklahoma City out of the West.
They got the former after Tim Duncan and the Spurs blew away the Thunder in overtime in Saturday’s Game Six, paving the way for the Spurs first back-to-back appearances in the Finals in the franchise’s history.
The Heat advanced to a fourth straight Finals, a feat last accomplished by Boston Celtics from 1984 to 1987. Fans will also have their first Finals rematch since Michael Jordan and Chicago faced Karl Malone and Utah in 1997 and 1998.
While Miami has been the favorite to win a third consecutive title all season, SportsBook has pegged San Antonio to win the seven-game series rehash at -135, compared to +115 for Miami.
Youth and the Heat owning the best player in the league, LeBron James, could put Miami on top, but several factors are in the Spurs favor.
For one thing they’ve lost to the same team in consecutive postseasons only once during Duncan and head coach Gregg Popovich’s reign. In 2001 and 2002, the Spurs fell to the Los Angeles Lakers, who owned the seemingly unstoppable, inside-out tandem of Kobe Bryant and center Shaquille O’Neal.
The Heat have no such combination or post presence to combat San Antonio’s Duncan and center Tiago Splitter, along with forward Boris Diaw playing exceptionally well in the postseason.
Furthermore, the Spurs have been lights out from three-point range in these playoffs, with Diaw and guards Marco Bellineli, Danny Green, and Manu Ginobili each shooting well above 40 percent from three-point range. In Miami’s lone Finals loss to Dallas in 2011, the Mavericks sunk 36 threes over the final three games to extend James’s title drought.
And while James has remained dominant in the postseason, the same can’t be said for running mate Dwyane Wade. Limited to a career-low 54 regular season games due to a nagging knee injury, Wade’s scoring has dropped significantly to 18.7 points per game in the playoffs, by far his lowest mark since his rookie season.
Still, Wade has the potential to take a game over, and relieve defensive pressure on James, and Miami has shooters of their own in veterans Ray Allen and James Jones.
Lastly, the Spurs have home court advantage this go round, and they are 9-1 at AT&T Center in the postseason.
Game One tips-off Thursday at 9 p.m. EST.