Thursday, August 28, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

First NBA Finals rematch since 1998

LEBRON JAMES and Dwyane Wade can point to statistics showing just how close the 2013 NBA Finals were. Tim Duncan doesn't need them.

He can't forget the way his San Antonio Spurs lost, especially since every replay brings another painful reminder. The Spurs were on the verge of celebrating a fifth title in Game 6, and just 2 nights later were congratulating the Miami Heat on their second straight crown.

The Spurs wanted a rematch, and so did basketball fans. It begins tonight in San Antonio.

"I think it's great that these two franchises have this opportunity in back-to-back years to compete for a championship," Wade said yesterday. "Last year was an unbelievable series and . . . it went down to the very end. We won the series by a total of five points, you know? That's how close it was. But it was a very even series. I think this year it could be another great series."

The NBA hasn't had a finals rematch since 1998, when Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls beat Utah for the second straight season. San Antonio is considered a slight favorite this time, perhaps a little deeper, healthier and better than last year, and owning home-court advantage this time.

The Spurs don't need to change much to change the result. They outscored the Heat 684-679 over seven games, and there were 47 ties and 42 lead changes, according to STATS.

"If you look at the numbers, the lead changes, the ties and the points in that series, it's almost even," James said. "So we did our part, they did their part.

"Both teams put themselves in a position to win an NBA championship, and we just happened to make one or two more plays to win it."

Both teams have reason to think they will win it. Wade is much healthier than last year, when he needed extensive treatment before Game 7, and the Heat have been able to get him extra rest by losing just three games in the first three rounds.

The Spurs' Manu Ginobili is also in much better shape this year and Patty Mills has emerged as an effective point guard off the bench, giving San Antonio options if Tony Parker is slowed by the sore left ankle that knocked him out of Game 6 of the West finals.

But Parker pronounced himself ready to go for Game 1.

"I think he'll be fine," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.

Parker acknowledged that he still has some concerns about how the ankle will hold up over the course of the finals. He and Popovich both indicated in recent days that treatment has helped considerably.

"I'm trying to be very positive," Parker said. "I'm trying to do everything I can, eat healthy, get my rest, go through treatment and just trust my body. I've been going for 4 years nonstop since 2010, no vacation . . . But I'm still here and I trust my body to hold up for the whole series."

The Heat expect nothing less than the best of Parker.

"Definitely, he'll be 100 percent," Heat guard Mario Chalmers said. "I doubt he'll sit out any time during the finals."

Parker sprained the ankle in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals against Oklahoma City, then aggravated the injury in Game 5 of that series. He tried to play in Game 6 and made it through the first half, before the Spurs decided at halftime that his night was over.

San Antonio was outscored by 11 points when Parker was on the floor in Game 6 against the Thunder, and rallied in the second half anyway. The Spurs scored 37 points in the third quarter and went on to win in overtime to clinch their second straight trip to the finals.

That meant Parker didn't have to play a Game 7 against the Thunder, and could just rehab instead.

"That was huge," Parker said. "These 5 days were very helpful for me. I'm so proud of my teammates."

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