Welcome to the 2014 NBA Finals, aka the Miami Heat Invitational. The Heat look to become the first team to three-peat since the Los Angeles Lakers did it in 2001, 2001 and 2002. In making the fourth straight appearance in the NBA Finals, a win by Miami s puts them in the conversation of greatest teams ever.
Miami’s opponent, the San Antonio Spurs, were a focused group this season after their collapse in the last two games of the 2013 NBA Finals. In game six the Spurs suffered from missed free throws (Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard could have each clinched victory for the Spurs) and questionable coaching (in opting to negate Miami’s three-point shooting, Gregg Popovich opted to leave Tim Duncan on the bench during several key possessions in the final minute — possessions that led to three-pointers by the Heat after offensive rebounds).
And in game seven Tim Duncan missed both a sweeping hook and a tip-in — two easy shots — that could have sent the Spurs into overtime.
After that series, the Spurs seemed done. Many speculated whether Duncan should retire after 17 seasons.
But Duncan and the Spurs used that series defeat as inspiration, and finished this season with the best record in the NBA.
This should be an epic series. LeBron James is the best player in basketball, and might be the most gifted athlete to ever play this game. Dwyane Wade, after being rested during the regular season, looks like the Flash of old.
You add Chris Bosh, Ray Allen, Norris Cole, Mario Chalmers and others to the mix and you have the second most unselfish team in the NBA.
But the San Antonio Spurs are the most unselfish team in the league. And the Spurs will win the title.
The Spurs have never won back-to-back titles during Duncan’s career. But this team is a dynasty. And here are the five reasons why they win this season:
No. 5 The Supporting Cast is Better
With Tony Parker hobbled in the Western Conference Finals missing the second half of game six with a bad ankle, Patty Mills stepped in and played brilliantly. While the Spurs can’t win a championship with Parker missing extended minutes in the finals, they can now get away with allowing him a break.
And Boris Diaw scored a team-high 26 points in the deciding game against the Thunder, looking a lot more sure of himself than he did a season ago. Diaw, when he plays with confidence, is as versatile a player as there is in the NBA. He can shoot the three. He can attack the rim off the dribble. And he can score in the post.
While heavier than he was earlier in his career when he seemed to be on the verge of becoming another Scottie Pippen-type player, Diaw has an elevated basketball IQ. All he needs is confidence. And, right now, Diaw is a very confident player.
The X-factor is Kawhi Leonard, who is athletic and long enough to make LeBron James work. No one can stop James. But Leonard won’t let the best player in basketball cruise during the finals.
No. 4 Gregg Popovich Is The Best Coach in Basketball
No disrespect to Erik Spoelstra, who has done an amazing job with the Heat and is on his way to a Hall of Fame career with four trips to the NBA Finals.
But Popovich, who has spent his entire NBA head coaching career with the Spurs, has won four NBA titles and six Western Conference championships.
While the nucleus of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker has remained steady, Pop has brilliantly tweaked the contributing cast enough so that the year-to-year transition has been smooth.
And, beyond the gruff demeanor, he really is a likeable guy.
No. 3 The Spurs are the NBA’s Most Unselfish Team
While the national TV networks haven’t fallen in love with the Spurs (despite Charles Barkley’s love for Ginobili, the Spurs were on TNT just five times during the regular season — less than the 10 appearances by the Lakers and Clippers; and nine appearances by the Bulls and Rockets; and six by the Nuggets), basketball purists appreciate what the team does on the court.
No. 2 The Pain From the 2013 NBA Finals is Great
With the missed free throws and missed opportunities from the 2013 Finals, a lot of teams would have been left devastated. The Spurs used that as fuel, and that led the team to the best record in basketball this season (62-20).
We’re sure the Spurs have played these plays over in their mind every day since the end of last year’s finals:
No. 1 The Big Three
Yes, Miami’s Big Two of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are enough to overcome most team’s starting five.
But Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are veterans who have been through virtually every scenario during the course of their career.
Plus, they’re incredibly committed to each other and to winning. None of the big three has tried to break the bank with the Spurs (Duncan took an $11 million pay cut from 2012 – 2013), which has allowed the franchise to assemble the necessary pieces to compete for a title every year.
This NBA Finals series should be just as good as last year’s down-to-the-wire classic.
The pick here: San Antonio in seven.