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2014 NBA Finals Preview: Heat vs. Spurs for the second time

By Eye on Basketball staff

More postseason coverage: Playoff schedule, results | Latest news, notes

Season series: The series between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs was split at 1-1 with the Heat winning the first matchup of the season and the Spurs blowing out the Heat the second time they played. What do you take away from this season series? Absolutely nothing at all. That's the fun thing with these two teams meeting up for the second successive season; last year's matchup means so much more than two measly games in the middle of a regular season neither franchise really cared all that much about.

Instead, you can look more at what we saw in the NBA Finals and see how it affects this series moving forward. In the first five games of last year's epic Finals, Danny Green was historically good with his 3-point shooting. It was a problem for the Heat and something they didn't correct until Game 6 and Game 7, which they not so coincidentally won. You had key defenders like Kawhi Leonard and Boris Diaw doing a fantastic job on LeBron James until he decided to be extremely aggressive in the final couple games of the series. You had a championship being ripped from the Spurs' hands by Ray Allen and his fateful shot. And there was so little margin for error in the end, key misses by the Spurs and LeBron James coming through on the biggest shots of his career in Game 7 cemented a second successive title for Miami.

I'm sure the regular season was super telling of what could happen, but these two teams know better than to reveal their hands against each other in games that don't involve the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

STARTERS
SAN ANTONIO SPURSMIAMI HEAT
Tony ParkerMario Chalmers
Danny GreenDwyane Wade
Kawhi LeonardLeBron James
Tiago SplitterRashard Lewis
Tim DuncanChris Bosh

X-Factor(s): Boris Diaw for the Spurs, Rashard Lewis for the Heat. Diaw's impact last year was as a surprisingly effective defender on James, and that's about it. This time, he could be asked to reprise that role, depending on whether San Antonio decides to use its turn-James-into-a-jump-shooter strategy again. The difference is that Diaw has become an integral part of the Spurs offense since then, making plays all over the floor. The forward has always been a brilliant passer and skilled player, but what he has been doing recently has been revelatory. It's not merely the 26 points he scored in Game 6 against the Thunder -- Diaw's all-around game has made his team more dangerous. If he doesn't slow down, San Antonio won't either.

Lewis was collecting DNPs at the beginning of the conference finals, but at this point it'll be shocking if he's not starting. Mike Miller's absence has been a huge talking point coming into this matchup, but the veteran Lewis is capable of making up for it. He doesn't have to hit six 3s in a game, like he did in Game 5 against Indiana, but just making most of his open looks and holding his own defensively would be a huge plus for Miami. The Heat always have been best when they go small and spread the floor, and Lewis allows them to minimize the amount of time they're playing two true big men together. It would be a problem if he went cold or let the Spurs bully him.

Narrative: Oh, where do we even begin? Can these teams follow up one of the best NBA Finals in recent history? We're expecting them to, and there's no shortage of storylines. There's the redemption of Wade and Ginobili, the whole "Miami got lucky" thing, the last hurrah for Shane Battier and possibly Tim Duncan, though the latter obviously won't say a word about that. There's talk of legacy -- even though James thinks it's stupid -- and each franchise has a chance to add another ring to an already impressive collection.

The main narrative, on the court, is a simple one. The Spurs appear to be a bit better than last season, while the Heat seem a bit worse. On the surface, this is true -- Miami's defense was inconsistent in the regular season, and its supporting cast is slipping. San Antonio owns the league's best record and, unlike last year, home-court advantage against the Heat. The Spurs are deeper than they were, and this could give them an edge. The road here means nothing at this point, though -- it's all about this specific matchup, and finding tiny advantages. Both teams have been just about unstoppable on offense in the postseason, and neither looks particularly vulnerable. What will give?

Prediction: I can't imagine making a prediction here with any certainty. Last year's matchup was about as even as it could have been, and the sequel could be even closer and better. The most compelling argument for the Spurs is that they're deeper than they were a year ago, and that Miami will miss Mike Miller. The case for the Heat is that their peak is better than San Antonio's. When Miami is forcing turnovers and getting out in transition, it is basically unstoppable. Miller's absence doesn't have to matter if Rashard Lewis and Shane Battier are making open looks and the Heat are making quick decisions. The Spurs' depth doesn't have to matter if LeBron James plays 40-plus minutes per game and Dwyane Wade looks like a superstar for his 35 or so. The Spurs are more than capable of taking this, and it should go seven games if everyone's injury-free, but I'm guessing Miami wins in another classic.

HEAT IN SEVEN -- James Herbert

I've got the Heat in Game 6 because ... well, I'm not quite sure. This series feels as even as it did last year, and while most people haven't seen the switch flipped by the Heat's defense yet, I did get to see it first hand in Game 6 against the Pacers last round. It's one thing to do it against the Pacers and another to do it against the Spurs. But surrounding the question of whether the Heat can be a great defensive team in this series is LeBron James wanting to be historic. He's the best leader and the best player in this series and that's the tipping point for me.

HEAT IN SIX -- Zach Harper

Don't worry; we didn't all take the Heat. Click here for all of our NBA Expert Picks for the 2014 NBA Finals

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