MIAMI (CBSMiami) – It’s been almost a week since the Miami Heat eliminated the Indiana Pacers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals last Friday.  A day later, the San Antonio Spurs knocked out the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals.  Since then it’s been a long several days that fans have been patiently waiting for the NBA Finals to begin.

Tonight, finally, that wait comes to an end.

LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the rest of the Heat will begin their final journey towards an NBA Finals 3-peat tonight in San Antonio against Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and the Spurs.

Historically the winner of Game 1 has gone on to win the Finals 70 percent of the time (47 out of 67), though the Heat has lost the first game in each of their three championship wins.

One thing to keep in mind is that the NBA has reverted to the 2-2-1-1-1 format this year for first time since the 1984 NBA Finals.

The journey to this year’s Finals has been fairly smooth for the Heat.  They swept the Charlotte Bobcats 4-0 in the first round, beat the Brooklyn Nets 4-1 in round two and took care of the Indiana Pacers 4-2 in the conference finals.

For San Antonio, their road to reach the Finals has had a few more bumps on it then Miami’s.  The Spurs toughest test may have come in round one when the Dallas Mavericks took them to the brink, but it was San Antonio who would come out on top in Game 7.  Round two would see the Spurs dispatch the Portland Trail Blazers 4-1, then they knocked out the Oklahoma City Thunder in six games in the Western Conference Finals.

The Spurs are on a short list of NBA franchises to have won at least four NBA championships.  San Antonio is joined by the Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers as the only teams with at least four NBA champion banners hanging from their rafters.

A win for Miami would add them to that exclusive list.  Not bad considering the Heat has only been around since 1988, which would make them the youngest team with at least four championships by 21 years (the Spurs are the next youngest and they were founded in 1967).

Now it’s time for the rematch that has been a year in the making.  It seems that while the confetti was still falling from the American Airlines Arena rafters following Miami’s Game 7 win in 2013, the discussion had already begun about a possible rematch the following year.

Both teams have gotten to the Finals with almost the same rosters they used a season ago.  Miami added Greg Oden and Michael Beasley during the offseason and traded for Toney Douglas in the early stages of this season, though neither of them has been used in Erik Spoelstra’s playoff rotation.

San Antonio added guards Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli after losing Gary Neal to free agency, and both new shooters have been getting regular minutes during the Spurs march to the Finals.  Besides that, it’s going to be a lot of the same cast of characters from 2013 battling it out for a second consecutive year.

While Miami will be throwing the same players back at the Spurs there is still one major difference from last season, and his name is Dwyane Wade.

During the 2013 Playoffs, Wade was hindered by knee issues and struggled to find the form that Heat fans have grown accustomed to.  That led to the “maintenance program” that caused Wade to miss 28 games during the 2013-14 regular season in order to stay fresh for the playoffs.

Did it work? It certainly appears so as Wade has been playing some great basketball over the past several months.  D-Wade is averaging 18.7 points and shooting a career-best 51.9 percent in the playoffs which is head and shoulders above the 15.9 points on 45.7 percent shooting Wade averaged during last year’s championship run.

Now the time has finally come to see if Wade and co. can defend their title for a third consecutive year.  It all starts tonight in San Antonio. Tipoff from the AT&T Center is set for 9pm.

Click here to watch Jim Berry’s report.


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