LeBron’s Heat running with the Bulls
SAN ANTONIO—Will the second straight Miami Heat-San Antonio Spurs finals showdown turn into this generation’s showtime between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics?
Probably not, but LeBron James’ Miami Heat have already earned their dynasty stripes, says Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel.
“We are competing against the (Michael) Jordan of our era, the (Chicago) Bulls of our era and you have to tip your hats to them,” said Vogel after the Heat eliminated Indiana from the postseason in the Eastern Conference finals.
San Antonio and two-time defending champion Miami are set for the first rematch series since the 1997 and 1998 NBA finals, the annual best-of-seven set between the Eastern and Western conference champions.
“This is my fifth appearance in a finals. I’m blessed,” James said during practice on Wednesday (Thursday, Manila time). “I was a kid who watched so many finals appearances, watched Michael Jordan and watched Shaq (O’Neal) and Kobe (Bryant).
“We watched throwback finals games of Magic (Johnson) and (Larry) Bird and Isiah (Thomas) and Hakeem (Olajuwon).
“I don’t need extra motivation. This is motivating enough.”
The Heat lost the finals in 2011 then won back-to-back titles in 2012 and last season.
If the Heat beat the Spurs they will become the first team to win three in a row since the O’Neal-led Lakers between 2000-2002.
“My role has been kind of walk by myself and learn from experience,” James said. “You can only live your own life, on your own path and make your own course. And I’ve been fortunate enough to do that.”
The Heat won last year, but San Antonio is looking forward to redemption. They have won four titles since Tim Duncan joined forces with coach Gregg Popovich in Texas.
San Antonio will host the first game on Thursday against Miami, who beat them in seven games last season.
Spurs sixth man Manu Ginobili says just getting back to the finals won’t satisfy them.
“We worked eight months really hard,” said Ginobili, of the Spurs who are seeking their fifth title since 1999.
“We had a very successful season and all it did was to get us to this point again for another shot. We are going to give everything we’ve got to try and get the trophy again.”
Miami’s driving force is still the Big Three of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
But this could be their final ride together as a trio because they can all become free agents this summer.
Lebron ‘best in the league’
Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant won Most Valuable Player honors this season, but James is still the dominant player in the league.
It will likely be 22-year-old Kawhi Leonard’s job to try and contain James, who averaged 27.1 points and 6.4 assists per game during the regular season.
“LeBron is the best player in the league and just physically he’s just a monster,” Duncan said on Wednesday. “So we’ve got to make his life as difficult as possible.”
The Spurs’ key offensive threat is Duncan who is going for his fifth championship ring.
“I don’t know if we’re going in with a chip on our shoulder,” said the 38-year-old Duncan. “We’re going in this trying to win a championship. We understand what happened last year, we understand how close we got.”
Injuries have affected the backcourts of both teams this season. Heat guard Wade has missed plenty of time during the regular season with a variety of ailments.
Wade is an elite player when healthy, and Miami is hoping that his wobbly knees hold up for at least four more wins.
Spurs star Tony Parker did not play in the second half of San Antonio’s series-clincher over Oklahoma City because of a sore left ankle. Parker said he plans to try to play in game one on Thursday.