Six years after San Antonio swept LeBron James and Cleveland, James gets a shot at redemption in an NBA Finals filled with story lines.
(Image source: Sports Illustrated / Robert Seale ) BY SCOTT MALONE The stars and spotlights return to the hardwood Thursday night for the NBA Finals. LeBron James, Tim Duncan and their supporting casts are set to lace ’em up for a Game 1 with no lack of story lines. For starters: Duncan and the Spurs look for their fifth title in 15 years. This Finals win would give San Antonio championships in three different decades. (Via CBS ) In fact, the last time we didn’t see the Spurs, the Heat or the Lakers in the NBA Finals, Michael Jordan hit this shot in 1998 — his last shot in a Bulls uniform. (Via NBC ) It’s been six years since the Spurs have made it to the NBA Finals. The team played against James when he was with the Cavaliers. The Spurs swept James and Co., and James certainly hasn’t forgotten that. (Via CSN Washington ) “I have something in me that they took. … beat us on our home floor, celebrated on our home floor. I won’t forget that. You shouldn’t, as a competitor, you should never forget that.” (Via ESPN ) After that 2007 series, Duncan told James, “ This is going to be your league in a little while.” Now Duncan stands in James and the Heat’s way at a title repeat. NBA analyst Greg Anthony told Yahoo! if James truly wants to make it his league, he’ll need a little help from the rest of his teammates. “We’ve already seen him play at extremely high levels and still not get it done as a team. This group is gonna have to help him against the Spurs, who have that championship pedigree to rely on. ” But another loss to Duncan leads to talk of James’ legacy — even if it appears he’s on top of the basketball world. Duncan and MJ never lost in the NBA Finals, and one analyst told USA Today a loss would be damaging to James’ résumé: “[His legacy] takes a step back. Everything now, he’s measured against the all-time greats, the [Kobe Bryants], the Michael [Jordan]s. But he’ll have been to the Finals four times. Some of the greatest ever never made it to the Finals.” Speaking of the greatest ever: San Antonio’s coach Gregg Popovich has never lost in the Finals, and one more win would tie him with Pat Riley for the third highest title total of all time. But a writer for NBC says Pop has a much greater challenge now than he did in 2007. “Those Cavaliers relied on LeBron for everything and hoped [his weak supporting cast] could pitch in enough. These Heat may have struggled some in the playoffs but Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen make up a much more dangerous core.” Will Duncan and the Spurs ride off into the sunset as world champs? Or does James truly show the world this is his league? We’ll find out starting Thursday night at 9 p.m. Eastern.