MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The Miami Heat returned to the practice court on Monday for the first time since their clinching win in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals last Friday night.

The Heat will be facing the San Antonio Spurs for the second consecutive year in the NBA Finals, the first Finals rematch that we’ve seen since 1998 when the Chicago Bulls beat the Utah Jazz in back-to-back years.

The 2013 Finals are widely regarded as one of the best championship series the NBA has seen in recent memory, and expectations for this year are that we’re in store for another great series.  While the teams remain the same, there will be plenty of differences between last year’s Finals and the one we’re in store for beginning on Thursday.

One main change from last season to this season is the format of the Finals.  Since 1985 the NBA has gone with the 2-3-2 format (the first two games and the last two games being played at the arena of the team with homecourt advantage) but starting this season the league has switched things up.  The NBA Finals will now follow the 2-2-1-1-1 format (Games 1, 2, 5 and 7 being played at the arena of the team with homecourt advantage) which the league used for the majority of Finals prior to 1985.

“I’ve never played in this format of the Finals,” said Dwyane Wade following Monday’s practice. “We haven’t played in this format but at the end of the day we’ve gotta start off on the road. It’s two games on the road and we’re focused on Game 1.  Both of these teams are capable of winning anywhere.”

Wade also made light of Spurs’ center Tim Duncan, who is playing in his 17th NBA season. “Has Timmy (Duncan) played in this format,” Wade asked with a smile.  “Timmy can probably give you a better answer.”

The Heat will not have homecourt advantage during the Finals for the second time during their current four-year stretch of appearances.  The previous time was in 2012 against the Oklahoma City Thunder when Miami lost Game 1 on the road before winning four straight games en route to the franchise’s second NBA Title.

Having homecourt advantage proved very advantageous for the Heat last season.  After splitting the first four games with San Antonio, the Spurs won Game 5 at home and took a 3-2 series lead back to Miami for the final two games of the series.  The Heat would win both games on their home floor to capture their second straight NBA Championship.

While earning homecourt is always a plus for any team, the Heat don’t get hung up on which team gets to play more games in their own building.  The preparation for Miami always puts an emphasis on winning playoff games on the road, and it has proven to be a constant area of success for the Heat.

“Once the time came when the playoffs started, we knew whoever we were going to play there was a chance that we were going to have to win on the road,” said Heat guard Ray Allen.

During the ‘Big Three’ era which dates back to the 2010-11 season, the Heat has won at least one road game in every single playoff series it’s been in.  That’s 15 straight postseason series that Miami has been able to win a game away from home.

“The mantra since I’ve been here is you have to win a playoff game on the road,” said Shane Battier, who joined the Heat in 2011. “Not that we expect to win every game on the road but we expect to go into a series and be a very competitive and be able to get one (win) on the road.  Homecourt is nice, a luxury, it was great to have it last year but it’s not a necessity for our success.”


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