As the Miami Heat grinded their way past the resilient Indiana Pacers and into their third straight NBA Finals appearance, basketball fans around the world are now eager to witness perhaps the most competitive championship series in three years.
The Heat clawed their way back to the NBA finals after overcoming a spirited challenge from the rough and tumbling Pacers.
James, who has been spectacular in the Pacers, got the help he really needed from his co-stars - Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh - to book a 99-79 blowout win in the winners-take-all Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Now, with the cast in the championship showdown already set, it's the perfect time to dig deeper into the matchups and crunch key statistical numbers to determine which team has the edge in this series.
There's no doubt the series will focus more on the individual brilliance of the MVPs of both teams - Spurs' Tony Parker and Heat's LeBron James - but it will eventually boil down to several matchups on the floor.
Tim Duncan has been a great model of durability and efficiency despite playing for three decades in the league. At age 37, Timmy is still averaging 17.8 points and 9.2 rebounds in this postseason. In the finals, the Spurs will lean more on Duncan and his friends of inside bangers to assert their superiority on the shaded lane.
Thiago Splitter, Boris Diaw, Matt Boner, Kawhi Leonard and Dejuan Blair have been a solid supporting cast for Duncan inside and these bunch of big guys look to capitalize their advantage over the Heat's small line-up.
On the other hand, the Heat frontcourt is coming off a frustrating series against the Pacers. All-Star forward Chris Bosh was hitting bricks all series long, putting more workload on James to carry the team. Although playing against 7-foot-2 bruiser Roy Hibbert was a tough task, Bosh must find recapture his shooting touch right away because the Spurs prove to be another physical team inside.
Fortunately for the Heat, Chris Andersen stepped up bigtime on both ends of the floor. The Birdman was resilient on the glass in Game 7 and continued to give the Heat that spark off the bench.
Like the Pacers, the Spurs are a different kind of monster inside the paint. With Duncan and Splitter roaming in the key area, it will be a tall order for the Heat to supplant the Spurs bigs in this specific area on the court, even LBJ comes in full-throttle.
Tony Parker has been clearly the Most Valuable Player this postseason. Averaging 20.3 points and 7.9 dimes in the playoffs, the French court-general is finding success in tearing through opponents' defense like a hot knife on the butter.
Manu Ginobili continued to be that difference maker off the bench while Danny Green and Gary Neal providing steady outside shooting and spacing.
Meanwhile, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers were not shooting really well in the Eastern Conference finals. Both players shot just under 40 percent on the floor as they got mauled by the Pacers big guards. Against the Spurs, Wade and Chalmers will have new matchups in the backcourt, hence, another opportunity to adjust their game. It will be a pretty even field in the backcourt, and it all comes down to how well Parker and Wade perform.
Although Wade had his best game this postseason on Monday, It's unlikely for him to sustain that kind of numbers against the Spurs, especially if his knees keep on bothering him. With a weeklong layoff, the Spurs are healthy bunch of dogs itching to get out of cage and smoother their enemies like a helpless prey.
Kawhi Leonard is the Spurs top-defender throughout the postseason and he will surely assume that role in the finals. He is expected to guard the best basketball player on the planet in James and apparently his success rate on this match will dictate the series.
The Heat signed Ray Allen last offseason for no reason. With the Spurs concentrating on interior defense, Allen's outside shooting will be key to loosen that defense and allow James and Wade to penetrate freely through the lane.
Allen will thrive in the series because he will always get wideopen jumpers as the Spurs defense try to chase Wade and James. And like he did before, Ray Ray is always a killer in crunch time.
The Heat enter the series as the favourites to win their second straight championship, but the Spurs are more than prepared to spoil the party. The revival of Duncan and the spitfire play of Parker will be the telling factor in another physical series that could end in seven games.
Prediction: Spurs in seven games