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NBA Finals Rematch Set

Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs dunks on Serge Ibaka of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs dunks on Serge Ibaka of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The 2014 National Basketball Association has its finals matchup: The two-time defending champions Miami Heat will play the San Antonio Spurs. It's a rematch of the finals from last year, which were seen as the ultimate test of the fans' attention span when the league's most compelling starLeBron Jamesbattled the team most often viewed as boringthe Spurs. However, there were numerous subplots then, and there are many more this time around.

First of all, let's revisit the narrative from last go-round. The Spurs have seen James in the finals before last year; they swept his Cleveland Cavaliers in 2007. James, however, is no longer the boy he was then. He's a two-time champion. Maligned for his self-promotion on ESPN, perhaps, but The Decision is far behind us at this point. The way he got to Miami might still rankle a few people, but James has ultimately been proven correct. The Heat are on the way to their fourth consecutive finals since The Decision, a feat unmatched by any other teams aside from perennial winners the Lakers and the Celtics. Not even Michael Jordan's Bulls went to four straight finals. The Decision might have been a misstep, but the decision itself certainly was not.

The Heat are on the way to their fourth consecutive finals since The Decision, a feat unmatched by any other teams aside from perennial winners the Lakers and the Celtics. Not even Michael Jordan's Bulls went to four straight finals.

Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have settled into their roles. and even Mario Chalmers has had sparks of greatnessnot only this season, but increasingly as the team has figured out the way to play. However, many pundits claim that this Heat team is not as good as last year's, with the loss of Mike Miller being the most oft-cited component. Ray Allen is still key and coach Erik Spoelstra is only getting better at his job, both of which have to be good signs for Heat fans.

On the other side of the match-up, the always-overlooked Spurs have made it back to the finals after the heartbreak of last season's Game 6 collapse. The Spurs were merely 28 seconds away from yet another odd-year championship. Ray Allen's corner three went down. Game 6 went to overtime. It seemed a miracle at the time that the Spurs were even able to play in Game 7. There was a much-reported dinner where the team seemed to put the loss behind them. But the preparation for Game 7 was ultimately for naught. However, after being dismissed year after year after year as too old, the Spurs have now entered into their first back-to-back finals in franchise history. Their focus in the regular season led them to the best overall record, giving them home court advantage in this year's contest.

The biggest advantage for the Spurs, however, should be the growth of Kawhi Leonard. The third-year forward has show remarkable progress this season, even compared to the accolades he'd already been accumulating last year.

The Spurs' big three have much room to improve, especially Manu Ginobili; his oftentimes out-of-control performance in last year's finals was unlike the improvisational genius basketball fans had grown accustomed to seeing. Tim Duncan (who won his first title in 1999, setting him up for the longest gap between championships in NBA history should the Spurs prevail) missed a chippy in Game 6 last year that he's made at least 100 times since then. Tony Parker, the last member of the Big Three, had been almost completely in control of the offense in the Spurs' previous series, against Oklahoma City. Now, though, he's turned into the biggest question mark of the series on the Spurs side, since he was held out of Game 6 against the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals.

One of the keys to the Spurs offense missed the second half of a close-out game because of an injury that almost no one knew about. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has always kept his cards close to the vest, but this seemed unprecedented. The biggest advantage for the Spurs, however, should be the growth of Kawhi Leonard. The third-year forward has show remarkable progress this season, even compared to the accolades he'd already been accumulating last year. His shooting percentage for the year is finally above 50%for the first time in his careerand his assists have jumped while his turnovers have barely changed. Leonard just might be the key for San Antonio's chances.

San Antonio hosts Game 1 on Thursday and Game 2 on Sunday. This year's finals will be the series that returns to the previous 2-2-1-1-1 format, thankfully. The Spurs play the team ball that every coach any player's ever heard speak constantly praises, should bring their laser focus to its most logical conclusion. Tim Duncan claimed that the Spurs still had the bad taste of last year's loss in their collective mouths. It's time for the veterans to prove it. Nothing else matters.

 
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