Career legacy against transcendent window. That's the struggle that the 2014 NBA Finals ultimately boils down to.
The San Antonio Spurs, miraculously recovering from an all-time collapse in Game 6 of last year's Finals to make another run at the fifth championship of the Popovich/Duncan Era, and in the process, if they win, putting Duncan at an absolute minimum alongside Kobe Bryant (and in the eyes of many, ahead of Bryant) for the greatest player of his generation (the "drafted in late '90s, still going in his early thirties" generation).
The Miami Heat, plowing along through a downtrodden and transitional era in the Eastern Conference to get back to the Finals a fourth straight year and chasing LeBron's first of the two three-peats that most fans seem to think is the buy-in to put him into a conversation alongside Michael Jordan.
If you're looking for a WWE/WWF doppelgänger (and I know you are), this Finals is Wrestlemania III, where Andre The Giant (Spurs) challenged champion Hulk Hogan (Heat). 15 years undefeated against 3 years as the WWF Champion!
Something's gotta give!!!!
Exact. Same. Thing. In the spirit of time and in the spirit of really smart basketball people doing much of the heavy lifting, I will not give an exhaustive position-by-position, X-against-O-style breakdown. Guys like Zach Lowe do that much better than I could.
Instead, I will convey my prediction and a few random tidbits embedded in some prop bets on which I'd place a sawbuck or two. These are courtesy of bovada.lv:
Odds to Win NBA Finals Miami Heat +120 San Antonio Spurs -150
SP: I realize the Spurs are a better team than they were last year (so everyone can please stop telling me!). Their star players continue to chug along. Ginobili is healthier this year, as is Kawhi Leonard. Their internationally flavored bench, which reads like a game program from the World Games or the U.N. roster on C-Span, has been ultra-reliable. I am not even certain I think the Heat will win the series, but I just love betting LeBron James in the midst of his prime, legacy-building years as an underdog. I don't love the Heat, but at +120, I would definitely make out with them. (Did I say that?) So I am picking the Heat in...
Exact Series Result Miami Heat win 4-0 11/1 (+1100) Miami Heat win 4-1 7/1 (+700) Miami Heat win 4-2 7/2 (+350) Miami Heat win 4-3 5/1 (+500) San Antonio Spurs win 4-0 14/1 (+1400) San Antonio Spurs win 4-1 5/1 (+500) San Antonio Spurs win 4-2 11/2 (+550) San Antonio Spurs win 4-3 7/2 (+350)
SP: ....SIX! Mainly because, if I am going to pick them, picking anybody (even LeBron) to win a road game in a Game 7 is a pretty tall order. Naturally, if I'm picking the Heat, then I think it's going to be largely because...
Odds to Win 2014 NBA Finals MVP LeBron James (MIA) 6/5 (+120) Tim Duncan (SAN) 5/2 (+250) Tony Parker (SAN) 5/2 (+255) Dwyane Wade (MIA) 8/1 (+800) Manu Ginobili (SAN) 11/1 (+1100) Chris Bosh (MIA) 16/1 (+1600) Kawhi Leonard (SAN) 18/1 (+1800) Danny Green (SAN) 30/1 (+3000) Ray Allen (MIA) 50/1 (+5000) Boris Diaw (SAN) 75/1 (+7500) Mario Chalmers (MIA) 75/1 (+7500)
SP: ....LeBron will be the Most Valuable Player. The interesting thing about this series (and an indicator of either how top-heavy the Heat are with LeBron, how balanced the Spurs are overall or both) is LeBron is favored to win the MVP, but the Heat are underdogs in the series. Looking for a sleeper MVP pick? (Sleeper defined as "10/1 or higher.") I'd go with Leonard, who has evolved into the Spurs' second-best player, and draws the defensive assignment on LeBron. You need a spotlight to win the MVP, Leonard will have one.
LeBron Props Average Fourth Round Points Per Game -- LeBron James Over / Under 28½
Average Fourth Round Rebounds Per Game -- LeBron James Over / Under 7½
Average Fourth Round Assists Per Game -- LeBron James Over / Under 6
Will LeBron James Record a Triple Double in the 2014 NBA Championship? Yes 2/1 (+200) No 5/13 (-260)
SP: The thing is, I don't think Leonard shuts down James (and I like Leonard). I think this is the Age of LeBron, and you don't get rich betting UNDER on his stats. By the way, that triple double paid off immediately in a low-scoring Game 1 last season. If the Heat are going to win, LeBron will have at least one of those crazy 36/13/11-type games along the way.
Other Player Props
Average Fourth Round Points Per Game -- Dwyane Wade Over / Under 18
Average Fourth Round Points Per Game -- Chris Bosh Over / Under 15
Average Fourth Round Points Per Game -- Ray Allen Over / Under 9
Average Fourth Round Points Per Game -- Tony Parker Over / Under 17
Average Fourth Round Points Per Game -- Tim Duncan Over / Under 16½
Average Fourth Round Rebounds Per Game -- Tim Duncan Over / Under 9½
Average Fourth Round Points Per Game -- Kawhi Leonard Over / Under 13½
Average Fourth Round Rebounds Per Game -- Kawhi Leonard Over / Under 6
Average Fourth Round Points Per Game -- Manu Ginobili Over / Under 13½
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SP: Sprinkle a little on these, if you'd like. I just thought you may want to see what the numbers look like.
So there you have it. Heat in 6, LeBron as the series MVP. Tim Duncan, scooped up and body-slammed...