To best prepare yourself for the 2014 instalment of the NBA Finals we have everything Aussie NBA fans need to know about the series.
WHAT IS IT?The NBA Finals are contested by two teams, with one team representing the Western Conference and the other the Eastern Conference. They will play each other in a best-of-seven championship series to decide the 2013-14 NBA Champion.
WHO'S IN IT?Contesting the 2014 NBA Finals this year are the San Antonio Spurs who won the Western Conference Finals, and the Miami Heat who won the Eastern Conference Finals. If these team names ring a bell it's probably because they were the 2013 NBA Finalists who went back and forth in an epic seven game series, won by the Miami Heat. The last time the NBA Finals were played by the same teams in consecutive seasons was back in 1997 and 1998 when the Michael Jordan led Chicago Bulls played and defeated the Utah Jazz in both years. A rematch doesn't take away any of the excitement, it only makes it harder to predict the outcome. There was no clear favourite last season and with a series that had many records broken, it was hardly to script. The performances of both teams throughout the season was ruthless, with the San Antonio Spurs clearly more dominant. In 2013-14 the Spurs finished the regular season with the best record in the NBA, a staggering 62-20. Their 'big 3' consisting of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili may be relatively old but they still contribute big time performances. None more important than what they receive from team captain Tim Duncan. After missing a layup to potentially secure the championship for the Spurs in Game 6 last season, a revenge inspired Duncan has propelled his Spurs back to The Finals. Duncan, almost single handedly, officially booked the Spurs' place in The Finals on Sunday with three key baskets in overtime over Serge Ibaka to eliminate the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Miami Heat were a step off their recent pace this season, with the effects of playing in four straight NBA Finals series taking their toll. Finishing the season 54-28 was still a noteworthy feat considering Dwyane Wade missed 28 games for various injuries and the rest he got from sitting out those games should help the Heat in this series. However, this series will have a larger implication on the perceived greatness of LeBron James. At times he's been compared to Michael Jordan and more recently former Boston Celtic Larry Bird, to be 'King James' and a step above the rest, he must give more than he did in the last series against the Spurs to secure Miami another title.
WHEN IS IT?Game one will begin at 11AM Friday June 5th, Australian time, from the AT&T Centre in San Antonio, Texas. The NBA Finals schedule has been change from a 2-3-2 format where teams with home court advantage (The Miami Heat last season, the San Antonio Spurs this season) had the first two games of the series and the last two (if necessary) at home, with the away team hosting the three games in the middle. Now the format follows all other playoff series, the 2-2-1-1-1 format which is displayed below. Game 1: 11AM Friday June 6 Miami Heat at San Antonio Spurs Game 2: 10AM Monday June 9 Miami Heat at San Antonio Spurs Game 3: 11AM Wednesday June 11 San Antonio Spurs at Miami Heat Game 4: 11AM Friday June 13 San Antonio Spurs at Miami Heat Game 5: 10AM Monday June 16 x- Miami Heat at San Antonio Spurs Game 6: 11AM Wednesday June 18 x- San Antonio Spurs at Miami Heat Game 7: 11AM Saturday June 21 x- Miami Heat at San Antonio Spurs *x- if necessary
HOW CAN I WATCH IT?The NBA Finals will be broadcast on ESPN Australia on Foxtel where all games are telecast live. For those of you without Foxtel the NBA Game Time website allows you to watch all NBA Finals games live and on replay through subscription. It costs approximately $12 US if you pay for games individually and approximately $27 or $37 for access to the entire series and every 2013-14 NBA game dating back to October.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:Tony Parker: The health of Tony Parker holds the biggest question mark entering this series. After an ankle injury in game 4 of the San Antonio Spurs previous series with the Oklahoma City Thunder, he played game 5 and again aggravated the ankle, then played half of game 6 before he was pulled by coach Gregg Popovich. With four days rest before game 1 of this series with the Heat, the Spurs are hoping it's enough time for Parker's ailing ankle to heal. His penetration into the paint is vital for the Spurs offense and his defence is underrated by most. Dwyane Wade: Even though there is a guy called LeBron James on his team who is without a doubt the best player on the roster, the Miami Heat go how Dwyane Wade goes. The Heat aren't without health issues of their own, Wade these days is always being monitored and is being treated like a fragile relic when off the court to keep him at the peak of his game. At 32 years of age he is no Tim Duncan (Age 38, we'll get to him later) but his knees have an extremely limited life now. When Wade plays well the Miami Heat 99 times out of a hundred play well, when Wade is lacklustre or glued to the bench the Heat and LeBron James struggle. In games 1, 3 and 5 the Spurs won in the finals series last year, Dwyane Wade rarely got into the paint and played poorly. Tim Duncan: Another trip to the fountain of youth throughout the offseason has kept Tim Duncan looking spry at age 38, in his 17th NBA season. With avenging the agonising 2013 NBA Finals loss firmly on his mind since last June the man has been unstoppable. The last time the Miami Heat faced a power forward or centre anyway near the level of Tim Duncan, it was Al Jefferson of the Charlotte Bobcats who absolutely tore open the Heat defence when on the floor. Roy Hibbert of the Indiana Pacers gave the Heat minimal problems in the paint, Duncan is the best of the best and will take absolute advantage in the paint. LeBron James: The supporting cast of the Heat is weaker and older than it was 12 months ago, which makes the role LeBron James holds even bigger. With more miles on his legs and minimal opportunity for rest in the past four years, can he handle it? This is his biggest greatness test to date. If he accomplishes a 2014 NBA Title and wins the three-peat, it will more than ever blur the lines that stand between Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan. There's no doubting LeBron's motivation, it's his body that's got to survive enormous minutes and hard fouls while staying the efficient, high scoring, high assisting, high rebounding player he is. Kawhi Leonard: San Antonio's high flying but down to earth stud Kawhi Leonard will guard LeBron James just like he did in the 2013 NBA Finals. Not only did Leonard excel and become the closest thing to a 'LeBron stopper' that we'll probably ever see, he contributed a consistent valuable contribution on the offensive end and took it to LeBron to expel energy on defence. Last season he upped his rebounds from six per game during the regular season to nine per game during the playoffs and he held the biggest rebounding presence on the floor when Tim Duncan was on the bench. That's not bad for a player who is 6"7. The future of the NBA is arriving in Kawhi Leonard. Aussies Patty Mills and Aaron Baynes: Both on the San Antonio Spurs roster, they almost became the last Australian's to win an NBA Title since Andrew Gaze, who was also with the Spurs and won it in 1999. Patty Mills is receiving more playoff minutes than he was last season, so expect to see him quick firing on three pointers throughout the series and possibly seeing extended minutes if Tony Parker misses games due to injury. Aaron Baynes will receive some game time if any of the games in this series become lopsided, he would win a championship ring regardless if he plays or spends the entire time on the bench.
WHO WINS?With not much confidence I pick the San Antonio Spurs to win in another seven game series. Home court advantage is ever so critical in the finals, the Miami Heat had it last year and they won the series. This year it's advantage Spurs. The Spurs are more motivated than the Heat after having a championship slip through their fingers with 30 seconds left in game 6. Advantage Spurs. All the Spurs players except for Marco Belinelli have played strong in the playoffs to date as they have the deepest bench in the league. The Heat have some players from their bench struggling and are placing more pressure on the starters. Advantage Spurs. With these differences there is still no denying the talents of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade because as of now they are still the NBA champions who defeated the Spurs, although San Antonio is reloaded with a bigger attack forthcoming and it's yet to be determined whether it's an attack the Miami Heat can overturn.
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