The Miami Heat escaped the Eastern Conference by the skin of their teeth, edging the Indiana Pacers in Game 7 to earn their spot in the NBA Finals. Things were much easier for the San Antonio Spurs; they cruised past the Memphis Grizzlies in four games and have spent the last 10 days waiting for the Heat.
The Spurs haven't been challenged much during the playoffs, sweeping aside the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round just like they did the Grizzlies in the Western Conference Finals. Only the Golden State Warriors, who forced the Spurs to a Game 6 in the second round, have even made San Antonio sweat.
Unsurprisingly, the Heat are only here because of LeBron James, but the load that James has had to carry has been unexpected. The superstar has averaged 26.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 6.4 assists in the playoffs, powering a Miami team that hasn't gotten much production from Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade.
The Heat have been dominant at home all season, going 37-4 in the regular season and 7-2 in the playoffs. The Spurs have been just as good on the road in the playoffs, though, if not better. They've gone 6-1 away from San Antonio and will be gunning for their fourth consecutive road win in Game 1.
Game Info: Thursday, June 6, 9 p.m. ET | National television: ABC | Odds according to OddsShark: Miami -5
Here are three questions that will help determine what happens in Game 1:
Can the Heat corral Tony Parker?
Parker has dealt with a bit of a calf injury, but it hasn't slowed him down at all. Parker tormented the Grizzlies in the Western Conference Finals, averaging 24.5 points, 9.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds in the four games against Memphis. The point guard ended the series with his best game of the playoffs, scoring 37 points on 15-of-21 shooting and adding six assists to dispatch the Grizzlies.
Now the Heat will be charged with slowing down the on-fire Parker. Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole will have to keep the point guard in check, but Miami's pressure defense could help them out. Parker struggled with the Grizzlies' pressure defense two years ago, and the Heat have the athletes to cause the same problems. If they can force Parker into turnovers before he can get settled in the Spurs' halfcourt offense, the Heat may be able to slow Parker down.
Parker will be helped by the fact that James takes over as the de facto point guard from time to time. That will ease the defensive burden on Parker and keep him fresher for a tough series that should see him play more than 40 minutes in every game.
Will Bosh and Wade show up?
James may be phenomenal, but even he needs help, and Bosh and Wade are good candidates to lend the MVP a hand. Unfortunately for Miami, neither has provided much help in the playoffs, which almost cost them against Indiana and surely will against the Spurs if they don't play better.
Bosh is averaging just 12.3 points and 6.6 rebounds in the playoffs, and his numbers were even worse against Indiana, when he averaged just 11 points and 4.3 rebounds. Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan aren't quite as athletic as Roy Hibbert and David West, but they are plenty big and will do more than enough to challenge Bosh in the paint. Bosh needs to find a way to make an impact regardless.
Meanwhile, Wade is averaging 14.1 points per game in the postseason, nearly 10 points below his playoff career average, and now he's going to have defensive ace Danny Green guarding him. Things don't look great for Wade, but the Heat are going to need more from him anyway.
Can the Spurs shake off the rust?
The Spurs haven't played a game since May 27, when they finished sweeping the Grizzlies. While a break may have been welcomed by an older team like San Antonio that has leaned especially hard on their starters, 10 days may be a little much. Now they are flirting with being rusty, instead of just being rested.
On the flip side is Miami, who just finished a grueling, physical series with Indiana. That should open the door for San Antonio to steal Game 1 at AmericanAirlines Arena, but that will be tough if the Spurs get off to a slow start while trying to shake off the rust.