And here we go.
After four NBA-free nights and the media's attempt to fabricate a Miami Heat/San Antonio Spurs beef when in reality the two franchises have nothing but respect for each other, the NBA Finals are finally here. Both teams have changed slightly since last year's epic seven-game Finals series, and this year San Antonio holds home-court advantage.
At least for now.
For the Heat, the formula to win a series without home-court remains the same -- even in the altered 2-2-1-1-1 format. Miami should win one of the first two games in San Antonio and defend home-court from then on. The Heat did this in previous series against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Chicago Bulls and most recently the Indiana Pacers.
Now, I'm already on record as saying that the Spurs will win Game 1. In all three of those series -- in which Miami won despite coming in as the lower-ranked team -- the Heat won Game 2 on the road. Through four seasons, one certainty exists with this current iteration of Miami -- this team only plays really well when it needs to. I wouldn't at all be surprised if Miami players run slow defensive rotations Thursday night, as they did in Game 1 of the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals and for extended stretches in Games 3 and 5 in last year's Finals. Miami even lost Game 1 of the NBA Finals last year to the Spurs, altogether that game was competitive.
The Heat's defense simply has to remain active and alert in this series -- or else Danny Green and other Spurs shooters will find open shot after open shot. Offensively, we'll have to see if the Spurs remain willing to give up mid-range and 3-point shots to Miami's stars. In Game 7 of the NBA Finals, San Antonio dared LeBron James to shoot 3s even after he started knocking them down. Will Gregg Popovich stay with that strategy, with even Chris Bosh becoming a more prolific 3-point shooter? Dwyane Wade even managed to take (and make) some 3s in the conference finals. Will that happen again, especially if he has a cross-match?
Game 1 will be partly be about each coach looking for the opposing team's strategy and making proper adjustments in the game or later in the series. It's a pretty safe bet that Rashard Lewis will start at power forward, if only because he can draw his defender out to the 3-point line and emerged as a surprising defensive pest against David West in the conference finals. It's also a safe bet that Norris Cole -- who didn't get off the bench in Games 6 and 7 of last year's Finals -- will be counted on more this year to add defense on the Spurs backcourt. A lot of other things, we'll just have to wait until the jump-ball goes up.
Through an uneven regular season, the Heat have largely cruised to the Finals thanks in large part to a rejuvenated Wade. Now, Miami's right back where it was last year in a position to three-peat. Let the games begin.