The Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs are no strangers to the NBA Finals.
The Heat are returning to the championship for a fourth consecutive year while the Spurs are making their sixth trip since 1999, including last year's matchup with the Heat.
Both clubs are filled with All-Stars and future Hall of Famers. With so much talent and experience on the court, picking a winner isn't an easy thing to do.
The question is, which player in the NBA Finals is most important to their team's success? Who needs to be on top of their game for their team to have a shot at the Larry O'Brien Trophy?
Let's start off with the Miami Heat.
The obvious choice is LeBron James. The player widely regarded as the best in the world is a game-changer in every sense of the word. He's taken home the Finals MVP the past two championship seasons for the Heat and is in the prime of his career. In Game 7 against the Spurs last year, James racked up 37 points, 12 rebounds and four assists. Not a bad performance for the biggest stage an NBA player could ever play on. If James is on his game, or close to it, are the Heat a lock to capture their third consecutive championship?
Dwyane Wade played the 2013 Finals with a bad left knee and was still able to contribute to the team's success. Now in 2014, the 32-year-old has a clean bill of health (for his standards) and is ready to compete for his fourth title in a Miami uniform. Wade is averaging 18.7 points and close to 20 minutes of play per game throughout these playoffs. The knee doesn't seem to be an issue. Wade's leadership and secondary scoring behind James may be integral to Miami's chances.
The third wheel when it comes to the Miami Heat is Chris Bosh. The 30-year-old Dallas native doesn't seem to get the same respect as his fellow Heat All-Stars. But, the reality is, Bosh is a good player. The Heat probably wouldn't have been as dominant as they've been over the past few seasons if Bosh had stayed with the Toronto Raptors. Does Bosh need to continue being effective for the Heat to be at the top of their game as a group?
The Spurs have their share of talented players as well.
The ageless Tim Duncan will be vying for his fifth championship with San Antonio. Even as a 38-year-old in his 17th season in the NBA, Duncan hasn't missed a step in these playoffs, averaging close to a double-double. Will Duncan's leadership and flawless fundamentals on the court be the difference-maker in a Spurs' series victory?
Last year it was Wade hobbled with an injury in the Finals, now it's Spurs point guard Tony Parker stricken with the bug. Parker is dealing with a lingering left ankle problem that forced him to miss the second half of Game 6 against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Finals. He's expected to play in Game 1. Even with the wonky ankle, the 32-year-old is leading the team in points (17.2) and assists (5.7) this post-season. If Parker can stay healthy enough to contribute on the court, San Antonio might be able to figure out Miami.
Manu Ginobili is arguably the most reliable bench player in the Association and is a major key to the Spurs' success. If San Antonio is going to beat Miami, will Ginobili be a major reason why?
And then there is Gregg Popovich. The four-time NBA champion and three-time Coach of the Year (including this season) knows the game like the back of his hand. Will his fiery intensity be enough to help dethrone the Heat?
So there you have it, the main characters of the 2014 NBA Finals.
It was a great seven-game series last June and there's no reason the same won't happen this time around. With these teams being so evenly matched, it's hard to predict a winner and one player could be the difference.
So, which player is most important to their team winning the Larry O'Brien Trophy?
As always, it's Your! Call.