We waited nearly a calendar year for the NBA Finals rematch. As of Saturday night, it's officially game on between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs. Anyone wanting a fInals matchup equal to last year's thrills and chills, these are the teams you wanted. More on these teams, this matchup, LeBron James and Tim Duncan before Thursday's opener. For now, a quick look at five things to watch in this series.
1) Tony Parker's ankle: The injury kept San Antonio's point guard sidelined for the entire second half of Game 6. Parker's teammates picked up the slack all the way through overtime. They'll have no such luck against Miami without Parker, who, if healthy, gives the Spurs a major advantage at point guard.
2) Small ball: The Heat went with shooters over size during the final three games of the Eastern Conference finals, vanquishing the interior-strong Indiana Pacers in the process. The Spurs just dealt with - and struggled at times - against an Oklahoma City Thunder squad that also loved their small ball lineups. San Antonio also went with an additional shooter at the start of the last two games, both wins. Personally I want to see Rashard Lewis and Matt Bonner remain in the lineup so we can witness the worst starting matchup of all time.
3) From beyond the arc: San Antonio led the NBA in 3-point shooting (39.7) during the regular season while Miami's defense ranked 18th defending the arc. During the playoffs, these are the top 3-point shooting teams, but the Heat were easily last in defending the 3 among the final eight teams in the playoffs. Basically, if the Spurs make their long shots, they're odds of winning are good. If the Heat hit a higher percentage, this series is over.
4) Duncan's history: Another championship ring makes it five for Duncan (and the Spurs). Shaquille O'Neal has four. That's a potential talking point for the barroom set. The real intrigue is whether Duncan decides five is enough. The Big Fundamental might decide to play until the end of the decade for all we know, but at some point he'll call it a day. That day could be coming should he win another NBA Title -and 15 years apart from his first. Should Duncan decide to move on from the NBA, coach Gregg Popovich might not be far behind. That would lead to a truly wild, wild Western Conference.
5) LeBron's legacy: James is four wins away from vaulting into a stratosphere few have reached: The main player on a team that won three straight NBA Finals. Shaq did it (or was it Kobe?). Jordan did it twice. Bill Russell a bunch, George Mikan before him. That's it, that's the list. Even those still baffled by "The Decision" would struggle to deny James a spot on any hypothetical list of the top 10 NBA players of all-time. Then there's the other side. What's happens with a loss. James was a Ray Allen, backing up corner 3-pointer away from another summer of criticism (Yes, LeBron sychophants, this is true). In a few days, the sporting world's leading lightning rod will hear plenty one way or another.
Here is the finals schedule. All games are on ABC:
Game 1 - Thu, June 5, Miami at San Antonio, 9 p.m. ET
Game 2 - Sun, June 8, Miami at San Antonio, 8 p.m. ET
Game 3 - Tue, June 10, San Antonio at Miami, 9 p.m. ET
Game 4 - Thu, June 12, San Antonio at Miami, 9 p.m. ET
Game 5 * Sun, June 15, Miami at San Antonio, 8 p.m. ET
Game 6 * Tue, June 17, San Antonio at Miami, 9 p.m. ET
Game 7 * Fri, June 20, Miami at San Antonio, 9 p.m. ET
* If necessary