It's The Spurs and Heat: Here's Our NBA Finals Preview

THE NBA FINALS ARE HERE AND THE MIAMI HEAT'S A BETTER-THAN-2-TO-1 BETTING FAVORITE TO BEAT THE SAN ANT SPURS BEGINNING THURSDAY NITE

By Jim Hurley:

Let's start off our Jim Sez NBA Finals Preview by putting one thing in particular in perspective here:

The defending champion Miami Heat have played seven games in the past 15 days including a trio of major gruel-jobs (see Games 1, 2 and 4 in the just-completed Eastern Conference Finals series against Indiana) while the San Antonio Spurs have played just twice since May 22nd (note that's when the Miami-Indiana series first tipped off in South Beach).

So the age-old question has gone out there as to who will be sharper, who will be more fatigued, etc. and we heard ESPN/ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy weigh in on the matter by saying the Heat hold the Game 1 advantage (especially in the first half of Game 1) but San Antonio should benefit from having played only 14 playoff games since April 20th when these NBA Playoffs first started up.

Now, here's what we think:

The Spurs don't want to hear any of this "rest versus rust" talk because - as far as they are concerned - they've been working out hard in scrimmages/practices the past week-and-a-half (last played on Memorial Day) and will be quite ready for a long and tough series with the Heat but gotta say that Gregg Popovich's squad must win one of these first two games in South Florida ... or else!

As noted in our headline up above, the Heat has been installed as a whopping -240-to-$100 betting favorite for this best-of-seven series that does - remember - go with that 2-3-2 games formula with the "middle three" games played in the Alamo City but this appears to be a "we-know-better-than-you-do" series price coming from the good folks in Las Vegas as is they don't believe the Spurs (or anyone else, for that matter) can beat this here-and-now Miami team four times in one single series.

We'll get to some of the NBA Finals "keys" shortly plus we'll lay a couple of charts on you too but first these two key reminders: Jim Hurley and his Handicappers and Bloggers get you all the NBA Finals Sides & Totals Winners when you check with us every game day either right here online or via our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453. Plus, get all the Major-League Baseball Winners each/every day. Hey, get 'em while they're hot!

Folks, before we dig into this year's NBA Finals Preview, here's a look back at the NBA Finals since 1999 when the Spurs captured the first of their four championships. We have put in CAPS all the NBA Finals that Miami and/or San Antonio have played in since '99:

YEAR CHAMPION RESULT OPPONENT
2012 MIAMI 4-1 Oklahoma City
2011 Dallas 4-2 MIAMI
2010 LA Lakers 4-3 Boston
2009 LA Lakers 4-1 Orlando
2008 Boston 4-2 LA Lakers
2007 SAN ANTONIO 4-0 Cleveland
2006 MIAMI 4-2 Dallas
2005 SAN ANTONIO 4-3 Detroit
2004 Detroit 4-1 LA Lakers
2003 SAN ANTONIO 4-2 New Jersey
2002 LA Lakers 4-0 New Jersey
2001 LA Lakers 4-1 Philadelphia
2000 LA Lakers 4-2 Indiana
1999 SAN ANTONIO 4-1 New York

Note that we've only had two NBA Finals series go the full seven games since 1999 (see 2005 and 2010) and - as you know - this year we've had only two playoff series in all go the distance (Chicago over Brooklyn in the first round and Miami's Eastern Conference Finals triumph over Indiana) ... just sayin!

THE NBA FINALS
#2W SAN ANTONIO vs. #1E MIAMI
- Game 1 is Thursday at 9 p.m. ET; ABC-TV

Okay, so we've lost track of just how many times Miami Heat mega-star LeBron James has been called the "best player on the planet" this playoff season but at least no one's fibbing, right?

James has elevated his personal and team game to new dizzying heights and simple stats don't really do justice to what "The King" has done during his team's playoff round wins against Milwaukee (in four games), Chicago (in five games) and Indiana (in seven).
Note that James is averaging a haughty 26.2 points per game during these playoffs while shooting the ball at better than 51 percent from the floor - not bad considering he's drawn the usual attention from opposing defenses and often times has been counted on to play a point guard or point-forward type position while many of Heat mates have struggled.

Maybe the neatest stat attached to James' name this playoff season is the one that shows he's averaging 41.2 minutes per game - way more than anyone else in a Heat "uni" (note that guard Dwyane Wade is averaging 35.1 minutes-per-game this post-season and forward Chris Bosh is averaging 31.9 minutes per playoff outing).

James (32 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists in Game 7 against Indiana) has been an iron man and he's played this post-season with an iron will - heck, about the only thing you might want to say bad about 'em is that he hasn't always kept his cool with the officials and that's something to watch for in this round because you can fully expect the Spurs to bang him around when he enters the painted area at every single turn.

Still, here's what the far-and-away best player in these NBA Finals needs to do here beginning with Thursday's Game 1 tilt in Miami:

He's got to get everyone involved as was the case in the runaway 99-76 win in Game 7 against Indiana this past Monday night. James spotted up open shooters such as Ray Allen (10 big points off the bench) and fellow reserve G Norris Cole (8 points in Game 7 versus the Pacers) and that rapid-fire ball movement in the decisive second quarter that night was inspired by James who basically let everyone know in the 48 hours between Game 6 and Game 7 that they had better "be ready" to play their best ball of the post-season.

So, how exactly do the Spurs slow down The King and his mates here?

For starters, San Antonio must make sure the playoffs' second-best player this year - that's uber-talented PG Tony Parker (23 ppg and 7.2 assists per game) - makes heady decisions and that won't always mean putting his head down and driving in for a scoop-shot lay-up attempt.

No, Parker has to "see the court" extremely well here and that means spotting up three-point shooters such as Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Matt Bonner and - of course - old war horse Manu Ginobili because that figures to be the real key here:

The Spurs - who have sunk 104 trifectas this post-season (or nearly 7 ½ triples per game) probably need double-digit treys per game to pull off the series upset here and so Parker must get his drive/dish plays plus F Tim Duncan (17.8 ppg and 9.2 rebounds per game this post-season) must turn back the clock but -- most importantly -- the Spurs must nail those long-range bombs and deflate a Miami team that can be a touch slow at times to cover the perimeter.

If there is another "magic number" to this year's NBA Finals, it's this: The aforementioned Duncan - who is averaging a shade under 35 minutes played per game -- must be out there on the floor for 35-or-more minutes per game here (not including any blowouts either way) because his still-smooth moves in the low box will be a major pain for the smaller Heat to deal with and gotta believe part of Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra's game planning here is that he has 18 fouls to give spread out over three players - that's starter Udonis Haslem, key reserve Chris "The Birdman" Andersen and benchwarmer Joel Anthony.
Hey, we know a few of you folks chuckled when we said in San Antonio's prior two series against Golden State and Memphis that the 38-year-old Duncan "needed" to be on the floor much of the time with conventional wisdom telling you the four-time champ ain't what he used to be but the reality of the situation is even if he's not scoring 20 ppg he's loosening things up for other teammates - and so minutes played for "The Big Fundamental" is really/truly important. Got it?

Lots more in the way of a Game 1 preview comes your way in tomorrow's edition of Jim Sez but let's show you how this year's two head-to-head matchups went with everyone - by now - knowing full well neither team played their stars in the other guys' building.

Hey, just for the sake of staying consistent with what we've provided in prior playoff series this year, here's how those Heat-Spurs regular-season meetings went (note the home teams are in CAPS below):

DATE WINNER SPREAD LOSER SCORE
11-29 MIAMI - 13.5 San Antonio 105-100
3-31 Miami + 9 SAN ANTONIO 88-86

Note: Just to refresh, the Spurs played without Parker, Duncan, Ginobili and Green in that meeting in Miami back in late November where the Heat won it as Allen fired in a three-pointer with 22.6 seconds left to give Miami the lead.

In the single regular-season meeting in San Antonio, the Heat sat James, Wade and point guard Mario Chalmers and still won by a deuce as Bosh (23 points) drained a three-pointer with 1.9 seconds left.

Suffice to say, there can be almost nothing gleaned from those two games that will suggest anything that will happen here but we will say that neither team shot their free throws very well there as Miami canned 10-of-15 foul shots and the Spurs netted just 9-of-16 charity tosses and so you may wish to note the free-throw success (or lack thereof) here.

NOTE: Get our Spurs vs. Heat Game 1 Preview in tomorrow's edition of Jim Sez.

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