Heat, Spurs set for rematch in NBA Finals

Miami’s LeBron James hopes to help the Heat won its third straight NBA championship.
Miami’s LeBron James hopes to help the Heat won its third straight NBA championship. The Associated Press

Last year’s NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs, won by Miami in seven games, is considered by many fans a classic. Now it’s time for the sequel.

The Heat and Spurs begin the best-of-seven Finals series Thursday in San Antonio. ABC (Chs. 2 and 9) will televise the game starting at 8 p.m.

“It’s unbelievable to regain that focus after that devastating loss that we had last year,” the Spurs’ Tim Duncan said. “But we’re back here. We’re excited about it. We’ve got four more to win. We’ll do it this time.”

The Heat is back in the Finals for the fourth straight season. The only teams to accomplish that feat — or top it — were the Boston Celtics (1957-66 and 1984-87) and Los Angeles Lakers (1982-85).

The Spurs, who earned homecourt advantage in the series by having the league’s best regular-season record at 62-20, are in the Finals for the sixth time. They’re trying to become the fourth franchise with as many as five NBA titles, joining the Celtics (17), Lakers (16) and Chicago Bulls (six).

The Spurs won the title in 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007 and they had a great chance to wrap up another crown in game six of last year’s Finals. With a 3-2 series lead, the Spurs led by five points with 28.2 seconds left in Miami. But Ray Allen’s three-pointer capped a wild rally that forced overtime, and the Heat won the game 103-110.

Miami then won game seven 95-88. Duncan missed a late layup over Shane Battier in the final minute and said then that both his miss and the series would haunt him for some time.

“Our guys, they actually grew from the loss last year,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “They showed an unbelievable amount of fortitude. If I can compliment my own team humbly, to have that tough loss — especially the game six — and not have a pity party, and come back this year and get back to the same position. That’s fortitude.”

Miami star LeBron James has been to the Finals each of the last three years with the Heat, winning the last two, and he said the Spurs aren’t the only team with motivation.

“Both teams have motivating factors,” James said. “They have a motivating factor. We have our own.”

One motivating factor for James is how well the Spurs defended him in last year’s Finals. Popovich decided to let James have open jump shots instead of easier shots in the paint. As a result, he made just 21 of 54 shots from the field in the first three games (38.9 percent) and shot 44 percent in the series.

James said he is prepared to see the strategy again in this series.

“I expect it but I go in with the mind-set just try to help my team win and just put myself in position to succeed and go from there,” James said. “I’ve prepared myself. The only thing I can’t do is control if the ball goes in or not.”

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said his plan remains for James and Dwyane Wade to attack off the dribble.

“We have to get to our game,” Spoelstra said. “Our game is an aggressive, attacking game.”

If Miami is successful at that, it could win its third straight championship.

“We’re just going to continue to try to enjoy this moment that we’re in, because it’s an amazing moment,” Wade said. “It’s something that, for a lifetime, is going to fulfill us as athletes. Even when we can’t play this game, we’re going to always be able to talk about this. So we just want to continue to add to what we’re accomplishing.”

Star news services contributed to this report.

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