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Duncan, James set to break their Finals tie

MIAMI (AP) — Over the last 10 seasons, only one NBA player has been part of more wins than LeBron James.

His name is Tim Duncan.

5 things to know about the NBA Finals

TIM REYNOLDS, AP Basketball Writer

 

MIAMI (AP) — Here are five things to know as anticipation builds for the NBA Finals rematch between the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat. The series starts in San Antonio on Thursday night:

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GAME 1 FACTS: The Spurs have never lost Game 1 of an NBA Finals. And Miami star LeBron James has never been part of a Game 1 road victory, in any round.

Advantage, Spurs?

Maybe. Maybe not.

San Antonio — which has never played an NBA Finals game while facing a deficit in the series — has won each of its five Game 1's in the title round, doing so by an average of 10.4 points per game.

Including his time in Cleveland, James has been on teams that opened playoff series on the road seven times. They're 0-7, losing by an average of 12.3 points.

But in four of those seven occurrences, including all three times it's happened with Miami, James and his team eventually won the series.

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ALL THEY DO IS WIN: Over the last decade, no one has come close to matching the playoff win totals of the Spurs and Heat.

Since the start of the 2005 playoffs, including the first three rounds this year, San Antonio has a league-best 92 playoff victories, while Miami has won 89 playoff games.

No other franchise is even close: The Celtics and Lakers have both won 59 playoff games during that span.

Miami has the best playoff winning percentage in the last 10 postseasons, its mark there of .654 just edging San Antonio's mark of .626.

There's six teams who don't even have 10 wins in the last 10 years — the Knicks (7), Raptors (6), Bucks (4), Kings (3), Bobcats-now-Hornets (0) and Timberwolves (not just zero wins, but also zero playoff games played).

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A LAST BIT OF REST: Apparently, two days without practice is a standard perk for winning a conference title in the NBA these days.

The Heat ousted Indiana on Friday night, then took Saturday and Sunday off to refresh and recharge. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra summoned his team for practice on Monday morning.

The Spurs aren't planning to do anything officially basketball-related until Tuesday. They eliminated Oklahoma City on Saturday night, and had no practices scheduled on either Sunday or Monday — which, if nothing else, figures to give Tony Parker plenty of time to work on improving the condition of his sprained left ankle.

Parker sat out the second half of the Spurs' West-clinching win at Oklahoma City because of the ankle problem.

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RESPECT LEVEL: Oh, there will be a high level of physicality in this series, for certain.

But something like, say, blowing into an opponent's ear, we can safely dismiss that as a realistic possibility during these NBA Finals.

There is genuine respect between the franchises, perhaps best proven by how Spurs coach Gregg Popovich warmly embraced any Heat player or coach he could reach after Game 7 ended a year ago.

Frankly, the Heat won't miss the Lance Stephenson-antics — like blowing into LeBron James' ear — and the endless questions about those moves.

"It's an annoyance," Heat forward Shane Battier said. "It's nice we don't have to deal with that anymore. ... It's about basketball and not all of the chicanery that went on."

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MONEY AT STAKE: There's $14 million in the league's playoff pool this season, and as if the Heat and Spurs weren't motivated enough by the chance to hold another Larry O'Brien Trophy, there's also some cash at stake.

The Spurs are already assured of taking home a total of $3,268,347 from that pool, a figure that would rise to $4,104,811 by winning the NBA championship.

Miami will get a payout of $2,795,220 if it does not win the finals, and $3,631,684 if it wins the championship for the third straight year.

The pool pays out based on where teams finished in their conference in the regular season, which explains the discrepancy in what the Spurs and Heat have earned so far. There's also a difference of $836,464 in what teams receive for winning or losing the finals.

Their numbers over that decade are incredibly similar. Duncan has appeared in 622 regular-season and playoff victories, James has played in 621. Duncan is shooting 50.2 percent from the field, James is shooting 50 percent. Duncan has won two championships with San Antonio during this 10-season stretch, James has two with Miami.

Plus, when facing each other in the NBA Finals, both has won one, lost one.

Here comes the tiebreaker — a Finals rematch that will have high expectations.

Miami and San Antonio are the league's last two teams standing for the second consecutive year, their next chapter starting on the Spurs' home floor Thursday night. The Heat won a wild series last season for their second straight championship, needing a frantic rally to avoid elimination in Game 6 and then riding the strength of a 37-point, 12-rebound effort from James to top the Spurs in Game 7.

"I think our guys, they actually grew from the loss last year," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "I call it fortitude. I think they showed an unbelievable amount of fortitude. If I can compliment my own team humbly, to have that tough loss, especially the Game 6 and not have a pity party and come back this year and get back to the same position, I think that's fortitude."

It's the league's first Finals rematch since Chicago and Utah played in 1997 and 1998.

The teams have actually played three times since last season's classic series ended, twice in the regular season, another being a preseason meeting in Miami where the Spurs acknowledged that the pain of losing Game 7 on that floor was still real.

Then again, it's almost like they wanted to feel that hurt at times. Popovich showed the Spurs clips of Games 6 and 7 early in training camp this season, not so much to open old wounds but rather speed up the healing process.

"We were just trying to put it away, just get over that part of it, learn from it, and move forward from there," said Duncan, a champion in 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007.

Move forward, they did.

San Antonio won 62 games in the regular season, the best record in the league. One of those wins was a 24-point romp over Miami, on the same floor where this series will start on Thursday.

The Heat know what wanting revenge feels like. They lost the 2011 NBA Finals to Dallas, then opened the following season on the Mavericks' floor and simply blew them away.

Heat forward Chris Bosh called it "extra motivation" for the Spurs.

"It's just something that we have to deal with, and we know that they're going to be very passionate, and they're going to play some good basketball," Bosh said. "So whoever we play, we just have to continue to keep our approach the same and play good basketball."

While the Spurs were punching their ticket by ousting Oklahoma City from the West finals on Saturday night, the Heat were getting a day off. James was taking his kids to see X-Men. James Jones went to a home-improvement store for some supplies. Bosh insisted he was going to do as little as possible, and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra isn't summoning his team to practice again until Monday.

By then, James will be locked in on the Spurs.

"It hasn't really hit us that much yet because I think we're in it," James said Friday night after Miami beat Indiana and clinched its fourth consecutive East championship. "I think it will once we're done and we're able to look back at what we were able to accomplish as players, as a franchise. I think that's when it will really hit us. We definitely don't take it for granted to be in this position."

So for the next few days, all the highlights of last year's finals will be played over and over again.

The shot by Tony Parker — who missed the second half of Saturday night's game with a left ankle injury — to win Game 1 in Miami for the Spurs. James' twirl-on-the-rim dunk as the Heat pulled away in Game 2. San Antonio sharpshooter Danny Green's Finals-record 3-point display. Bosh's rebound that led to Ray Allen's shot that saved Miami's season in Game 6. The yellow rope, the precursor to a Spurs celebration that never happened.

All made for an epic series.

The encore could be even better.

"Obviously we are very happy and pleased with the season we have had so far, but we are not by any means satisfied," Green said. "We know we have a lot of work to do against a very good team. There is a reason why they're back there and are two-time champs. We have our work cut out for us, but we are happy with going back — just not satisfied."

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