For the most part, the rosters are the same. The setting, cities and coaches, all unchanged.
As the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs prepare to meet in the NBA Finals again, the pervading thought is that this series is a mere continuation of last year's seven-game thriller.
In some ways, maybe it is. The Heat and Spurs split their regular-season meetings and this matchup isn't exactly a surprise, but the Heat sees differences. And the Heat understands if it wants the same result it got last time out against the Spurs, it's going to have to rely on some of the adjustments it made over the last 12 months, especially since this time Miami won't have home-court advantage when the Finals begin Thursday at the AT&T Center in San Antonio.
"It's always different," Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra said. "It's different from the standpoint that we have to start out on the road. Their rotation is a little bit different, so is ours. The challenge is different. The mind-set is different. It all feels a little bit different."
One thing Miami now has in its favor is a healthy Dwyane Wade. The 32-year-old was plagued with knee issues throughout last year's playoffs, leading to the much-discussed "maintenance program" he followed this season that required plenty of rest.
Wade played through the pain last June and still managed to average 15.9 points in the postseason, but he admitted Tuesday he feels "better" than he did 12 months ago and that makes a difference in his mental preparation for the Finals.
"You have to be physically right to play this game at a high level, but you have to be mentally right … if your [mind] is clear, then you feel you're capable of doing the things you want to do and that you can do and that makes a big difference," he said. "It doesn't guarantee you anything. It doesn't mean you're going to play better, but it does clear your mind."
Added Spoelstra: "He had some very big games last year, even while he was hobbled coming into it. He feels better coming into it right now from a mental standpoint. We're all encouraged by that."
Like Wade, Heat center Chris Bosh has spent the past year preparing for this moment, mostly by adding a new dynamic to his game.
After shooting just 28% from three-point range last season, Bosh has found success beyond the arc this year, shooting 34% from there during the regular season. That number has jumped to 41% in the postseason and now, Bosh taking shots from the perimeter has become what Spoelstra termed "just part of our game."
And while Bosh was non-committal Tuesday when asked about how much he expects to use his outside shot against the Spurs, he knows it could make a difference.
"I think it'll give them something extra to think about, give Dwyane and LeBron [James] a little bit more space, create some rotation for them," Bosh said. "I don't like to jump ahead because we don't know how they're going to play us. … I want to be aggressive. I want to get in spots where I've been working my whole life. Then eventually, I can expand out. But first we have to see how the flow of the game goes."
The Heat has also gotten a boost recently from veteran forward Rashard Lewis, who went from not playing in the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals to starting the last three games. He went six for nine from three-point range in the Heat's 93-90 Game 5 loss to the Indiana Pacers, and has emerged as another option for Spoelstra and the Heat.
"We know what Rashard can do," Bosh said. "Then I try to shoot a little bit too and that allows Dwyane and LeBron to get more one-on-one situations and we don't feel like anyone in the league can guard those guys. It takes a team effort."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times