Heat vs. Spurs: 2014 NBA Finals Preview

When the NBA Finals begin in San Antonio on Thursday night, it will be the third time that the leaders of their respective teams, Tim Duncan and LeBron James, will meet on the league’s biggest stage. Duncan got the best of James last decade when he was still with the Cavaliers, while James was able to take down Duncan last year.

This one, as they say, is for all the marbles.

Even though it was Tony Parker who walked away with the Finals MVP award when San Antonio faced off against Cleveland in 2007, the Spurs were still, as they always have been and will be until he hangs them up, Duncan’s team. In the playoffs that year it was James, not Parker, who led all players in scoring and assists. The only other major statistic, rebounding, was dominated by Duncan.

That was then; this is now.

Last year, Duncan was still the playoff leader in rebounds and James was the scoring and assist leader once again. However, this time around, instead of Duncan and the Spurs methodically dispatching a Cleveland team that probably shouldn’t have made it to the Finals, James and the rest of the Heat were able to overcome a deficit in Game 6 and take Game 7 to knock off San Antonio and capture their second consecutive title.

Both teams have made it back to the Finals this year, the sixth championship rematch since the ABA/NBA merger in 1976, and a win for either squad would have large historical implications for both of the franchises and for individual players, none more so than Duncan and James.

For James and the Heat, a championship in June would give them a “three-peat,” and thrust James even further into the conversation about all-time greats like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O’Neal, all of whom were able to win three consecutive championships (Jordan twice). It would also put a rubber stamp on the era of the “Big Three” in Miami and make the salary-cap initiated dismantling of the team this offseason much more palatable for players and fans. For Wade, a Miami win would give him four in his career and put him just one behind Bryant (five) and tie him with Duncan (four).

For the Spurs, a win against Miami would tie Duncan with Bryant at five championships apiece and thrust the franchise into the rarefied air of being a legitimate dynasty. When Duncan first won with the Spurs in 1999, he was 22. A win in 2014 at age 37 would give him championships across three decades, a feat that not even Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers or Jordan and the Chicago Bulls were able to accomplish. A victory would also be the final checkmark on Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s resume and serve at the ultimate testament to the strength and stability he has been able to bring to the organization.

Duncan knows what’s at stake and sounds as if he’s up for the challenge in his 16th season.

“It’s unbelievable to regain that focus after that devastating loss that we had last year,” Duncan said on Saturday. “But we’re back here. We’re excited about it. We’ve got four more to win. We’ll do it this time. We’re happy it’s the Heat again. We’ve got that bad taste in our mouths still.”

Unfortunately for the Spurs, James sounds as if he is also aware of the historical implications of the rematch and isn’t afraid of them.

“They wanted this, they wanted us and we’ll be ready for the challenge,” James said on Monday. “[Duncan’s comments] don’t bother me. Once you get on the floor, you’ve got to play. We’re confident. We’re not shying away from them. We want them, too. I don’t think it’s personal. Like they said, we left a sour taste in their mouth.”

To be fair, the rosters are full of other Hall-of-Fame-caliber players like Parker, Wade, Ray Allen and Manu Ginobili, but it boils down to Duncan vs. James – old-school vs. new-school, 1997 No. 1 draft pick vs. 2003 No. 1 draft pick, The Big Fundamental vs. The King – for some of the most valuable bragging rights that the NBA can offer.

Evan Bleier is a freelance writer based out of wherever he can plug in his laptop. You can send him questions, comments and Buffalo wing suggestions @itishowitis or “like” CraveOnline Sports on Facebook

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