The Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs tip-off Game One of the 2014 NBA Finals Thursday night from AT&T Center, with each franchise and several stars chasing history.
Heat forward LeBron James and guard Dwyane Wade hope to be the first superstar tandem to lead their team to three straight championships since Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal completed the rare feat in in 2002 with the Los Angeles Lakers. It’s the fourth straight trip to the Finals for James, Wade and Miami, which hasn’t been done since the Boston Celtics from 1984 to 1987.
Tim Duncan and head coach Gregg Popovich are gunning for a fifth championship together, which would tie them with Bryant and former Lakers coach Phil Jackson. Duncan would also tie Bryant in total championship rings, and surpass O’Neal by one.
It’s the first rematch in the Finals since Jackson and Michael Jordan led the Chicago Bulls against Utah Jazz stars Karl Malone and John Stockton in 1997 and 1998.
The Spurs ended the regular season with the best record in the league at 62-20 and Miami tied for the fifth best at 54-28. Yet the Heat have gained more momentum in the postseason, losing three out of 15 games compared to San Antonio, which needed seven games to get out of the first round against Dallas and six to silence Oklahoma City in the Western Conference Finals.
Miami is also second in team defense during the postseason, allowing 92.1 points per game. San Antonio is eighth at 98.6 points allowed, but its overpowering deep shooting has netted the team an astounding 106.6 points scored per contest. Still Miami has its own sharp shooters, just besting the Spurs with a 39.5 percent rate from three compared to 39.2 percent, the two best marks in the postseason.
Other than scoring, the Spurs have a solid size and rebounding edge. The Spurs are pulling down 43.2 boards per game thanks to Duncan, center Tiago Splitter and small forward Kawhi Leonard. Lacking a real post presence, Miami is last among playoff teams at 34.6 rebounds per contest.
San Antonio will also have to monitor the health of point guard Tony Parker, who led the team in scoring and assists during the regular season but is limping into the Finals with a nagging ankle injury that has given the Frenchman problems before. Parker was taken out early in the deciding Game Six of the West Finals, and backup Corey Joseph filled in amicably, but the Spurs need Parker’s tenacity and speed to fully challenge Miami’s stringent defense.
Some of the top NBA reporters and analysts around the country remain torn on who will prevail in the 2014 NBA Finals.
Of the 17 expert predictions below, nine have picked the Spurs to avenge their loss last year to the Heat. Eight have picked the Heat to complete a three-peat and to topple the Spurs for a second straight year.
The majority of the picks have the series going to at least six or the maximum seven games, but one suggests San Antonio will dominate and win the fifth title in franchise history in five games.
Ben Golliver, Sports Illustrated: Spurs In 6
Phil Taylor, Sports Illustrated: Spurs in 7
Rob Mahoney, Sports Illustrated: Spurs in 6
Matt Dollinger, Sports Illustrated: Spurs in 7
Chris Johnson, Sports Illustrated: Heat in 6
Sam Amick, USA Today: Spurs in 7
Jeff Zillgitt, USA Today: Heat in 6
Kevin Spain, USA Today: Spurs in 7
Adi Joseph, USA Today: Heat in 6
Chris Broussard, ESPN: Heat in 6
Chad Ford, ESPN: Heat in 7
Marc Stein, ESPN: Spurs in 7
David Thorpe, ESPN: Heat in 6
Kevin Pelton, ESPN: Spurs in 5
Henry Abbott, ESPN: Spurs in 6
Kenny Smith, TNT: Heat
Charles Barkley, TNT: Heat
Betting Odds: The original line for the series placed the Spurs as -135 favorites, and Miami slight underdogs at +115.
However, the line has shifted some, with the Spurs still favored at -120 and the Heat now even, according to Bovada.lv.
In terms of total games, the chances of Miami sweeping in four games have been pegged at 11/1 and San Antonio at 14/1. Should the series go the full seven games, the odds are close with Miami at 5/1 and San Antonio at 7/2.